Canine Cough (aka kennel cough)

What is canine cough?
Canine cough is an upper respiratory infection affecting dogs. There are multiple organisms involved, the most common being a bacterium (Bordetella bronchiseptica) and several viruses (canine parainfluenza virus, canine coronavirus). It is highly contagious and is spread via the aerosol route. Droplets of moisture from a dog’s respiratory tract contaminate the environment and another dog breaths the infectious agent in. It was formerly called “Kennel cough” as the infection spreads quickly among dogs in the close quarters of a kennel or animal shelter.

What are the signs of Canine cough?
The infection causes marked inflammation of the airways resulting in a harsh, hacking cough that most people describe as sounding like “something stuck in my dog’s throat.”
The infection may be of brief duration (1-2 weeks) and mild enough to warrant no treatment at all or it may progress all the way to a life-threatening pneumonia.

How do dogs get Canine cough?
An infected dog sheds the bacteria and/or viruses in nasal and oral secretions. These secretions become aerosolized (float in the air) where they can be inhaled by a healthy dog. Just like the flu in people, crowded places especially with suboptimal ventilation play important roles in the likelihood of transmission (hence the reason it is commonly associated with kennels, grooming saloons etc) The organisms may also be transmitted on toys, food/water bowls or other objects. Recovered dogs can shed the Bordetella bacteria for 2-3 months post infection so despite being normal they can still transmit the disease to others.
The incubation period is 2-14 days and most dogs show signs of coughing for 1-2 weeks. In uncomplicated cases the dog does remains well but if the infection progresses into a pneumonia as well as coughing, they become lethargic, depressed, off food, may develop a temperature and can die.

How is Diagnosis Made?
Usually the history of exposure to other dogs within the proper time frame, plus typical physical examination findings is adequate to make the diagnosis. Radiographs show bronchitis and are particularly helpful in determining if there is a complicating pneumonia and ruling out the many other causes of coughing (e.g. heart disease, foreign bodies, cancer). A coughing dog that has a poor appetite, fever, and/or listlessness should be evaluated for pneumonia. Special tests that look for DNA of the common organisms (PCR test) can also be done to identify the organisms involved.

How is Canine cough treated?
Treatment varies and may include just monitoring your dog is eating and drinking normally to cough suppressants, decongestants, antibiotics, intravenous fluids and intensive care in hospital.

How do I prevent my dog from getting kennel cough?
Vaccines (intranasal, oral and injectable) are available to help prevent infection and reduce the risk of illness but they are not 100% protective. The vaccines available can only help protect against 2 of the organisms (Bordetella and Parainfluenza) that might be involved. The vaccine must be given before exposure. The intranasal kennel cough vaccine (squirted up the nose) takes a few (3-5) days to be effective, and the injectable vaccine takes even longer (a week or more).