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What is Kennel Cough?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is kennel cough?

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease among dogs. It's caused by a combination of viruses and bacteria, with Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus being the most common culprits. Dogs with kennel cough typically exhibit a persistent, forceful cough that can sound like honking.

How do dogs contract kennel cough?

Dogs can contract kennel cough through airborne droplets from an infected dog's cough or sneeze, or through direct contact with contaminated surfaces. It spreads quickly in places with high canine populations, such as kennels, dog parks, and shelters. The disease is so named because it often spreads in kennels, where dogs are in close quarters.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

Symptoms of kennel cough include a dry, hacking cough, retching, watery nasal discharge, lethargy, and in some cases, a low fever. While the cough can sound alarming, many dogs remain active and retain their appetite. However, symptoms can be more severe in puppies, elderly dogs, or those with compromised immune systems.

Can kennel cough be treated?

Yes, kennel cough can be treated. Mild cases may resolve on their own, but veterinarians often prescribe antibiotics to prevent secondary infections and cough suppressants for comfort. In more severe cases, supportive care such as nebulization or additional medications may be necessary. Always consult a vet if you suspect your dog has kennel cough.

Is there a vaccine for kennel cough?

There is a vaccine for Bordetella bronchiseptica, one of the primary agents of kennel cough. While the vaccine may not prevent infection entirely, it can significantly reduce the severity and duration of the disease. Vaccination is often recommended for dogs that are frequently exposed to other dogs, especially in boarding or social settings.

How can I prevent my dog from getting kennel cough?

Prevention strategies include vaccination, avoiding crowded dog areas if there's an outbreak, and maintaining good hygiene practices. Regular cleaning and disinfection of kennels and bowls, along with proper ventilation in facilities, can reduce the risk. Also, isolate any dog showing symptoms to prevent spreading the disease to other dogs.

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Discussion Comments

By anon939232 — On Mar 12, 2014

@anon12283: Your information is inaccurate. According to the Mayo Clinic, the connection was not tested but based on an assumption. Therefore, there is no evidence to support your assertion. Moreover, the 61 year old woman's immune system was seriously compromised because she had just had a kidney transplant. This was not a healthy person to begin with.

By anon12283 — On May 03, 2008

There are many human Bordetella bronchiseptica (Bbr) cases on record and they only occur through way of animal/human contact. Recently (2007) the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, diagnosed a Bordetella bronchiseptica infection in a 61 year old woman due to vaccination shedding from her recently vaccinated dogs. Humans have died from Bordetella bronchiseptica infections. All one has to do is check the medical industry reported cases (since the early nineties there are enough on record). The USDA even is looking into transfer from Bbr onto humans as well and they recently put to record (2008) that an infant with pneumonia due to Bordetella bronchiseptica was not caused by the recent vaccination of the family dogs.

By anon9696 — On Mar 11, 2008

What effect does kennel cough have on humans?

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