The medical name for kennel cough is tracheobronchitis. It is canine bronchitis and is similar to a human chest cold. The common name comes from the dry, unproductive cough that is its main symptom, and the tendency for the infection to spread easily in kennels and locations with multiple dogs.
Kennel cough is extremely contagious. It is transmitted from dog to dog by bacteria or viruses spread from coughing as well as from infected surfaces. Obedience classes and kennels often do not allow dogs without a valid vaccination against this disease.
In most cases, kennel cough is caused by the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. Viral infections account for most of the other causes, and these can include canine distemper virus, adenovirus, and parainfluenza virus.
Symptoms usually appear within five days of exposure to the bacteria or virus. Unproductive, or dry, coughing is the main symptom, and the coughing may be so mild at first that it may appear the dog has something obstructing its windpipe. Kennel cough can be very serious, as it can develop into pneumonia.
Puppies are especially susceptible to kennel cough and many veterinarians recommend giving the vaccine to puppies several weeks old. Vaccines, which target the most common causes, come in injectable and intranasal types. Puppies are often given the intranasal vaccinations, as the injectables are made for dogs four months of age or older.
Sometimes, the injectable vaccine may not prevent kennel cough, but it will often minimize the symptoms. The intranasal vaccine works quickly and often provides protection in about five days. The injectable type may give the dog a longer period of immunization, however, so sometimes a veterinarian may administer both vaccines.
Along with a dry cough, kennel cough may present with a fever. The dog may also make gagging sounds if the throat becomes very irritated. A veterinarian may prescribe a cough suppressant, as well as antibiotics in cases caused by bacteria.