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What to Do About Kennel Cough in Dogs and Cats

kennel cough

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Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.

What You Need to Know About Kennel Cough (aka Bordetella)

As always, after the holiday season, I get the pleasure of treating more puppies than usual at my animal hospital. I love this time of year because the hospital is filled with playful, happy and healthy puppies. It is also the time of year when many people travel and drop their pets off for boarding. With all the adorable new puppies and lots of boarding pets, I see more cases of infectious tracheobronchitis, otherwise known as kennel cough or Bordetella.

For the most part, kennel cough is not a serious disease, and most pets overcome this illness quickly. However, in certain circumstances, kennel cough can progress to more serious diseases such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. So today, I would like to take a moment to discuss what kennel cough is, what clinical signs to look for, and how to treat pets suffering from kennel cough so you can ensure your pet is at optimal health.

What Is Kennel Cough?

Infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) is an upper respiratory infection in dogs that is caused by canine parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica. These two pathogens (or infectious agents) attack the lining of the trachea and respiratory tract, resulting in inflammation and irritation of the upper airway. This inflammation results in a dry cough. Kennel cough is not usually a serious disease and resolves quickly. However, in certain circumstances, animals can become more susceptible to a secondary infection and more serious diseases, such as pneumonia. If you see kennel cough symptoms, like hearing your dog coughing or cat coughing, it is important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian.

What Causes Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is a virus that is extremely contagious. It can be transmitted by germs released into the air when an animal coughs, by direct contact with an infected animal, or by sharing contaminated objects. This disease is most common in areas where many dogs or cats are present, such as boarding facilities, grooming facilities, pet stores, animal shelters, pet rescues and breeders with many puppies. However, do not let the common name, kennel cough, fool you. Pets can transmit the disease simply by going on a walk around the block or by drinking from a contaminated water source.

What Are Some Kennel Cough Symptoms?

The most common clinical signs of kennel cough are:

  • Persistent nonproductive cough that sounds like something is caught in their throat (loud honking cough).
  • If uncomplicated, they are playing, eating and drinking normally.
  • A more serious cough develops after your pet exercises or gets excited.

How Do You Diagnose Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is diagnosed by excluding other diseases or illnesses.  This means that there are no specific tests to diagnose kennel cough.  Your veterinarian will rule out other, more serious diseases, and then diagnose kennel cough based upon clinical signs and the history of exposure (newly acquired pets from a pet store, breeder or shelter, or pets that have recently been to a groomer, dog park, training classes or a boarding facility). Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination, assessing your pet’s heart and lungs as well as other organ systems.

How Do You Treat Kennel Cough?

In mild cases, no treatment is necessary. Generally, kennel cough is self-limiting and will run its course within 7-14 days, as long as your pet is active, eating and drinking with just an isolated cough. In more severe cases or in pets that are immunocompromised (young puppies or elderly pets), antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent secondary, more complicated infections such as pneumonia. Cough suppressants, either over-the-counter or prescribed, can help with the discomfort of coughing. If at any time your pets becomes listless, does not want to eat, is lethargic, has difficulty breathing or develops severe green discharge, have your pet examined by your veterinarian immediately.

How Do I Prevent My Dog From Getting Kennel Cough?

There are vaccinations to protect your pet from kennel cough. They are available in an injectable, intra-nasal and oral form. Although these vaccinations are not 100% effective in preventing all strands of kennel cough infection, they provide good protection and decrease the severity of clinical signs if your pet were to become infected. I advise all my pet parents to have their pet vaccinated for kennel cough.

A strong immune system will also help your pet be less susceptible to illnesses like kennel cough. To give your pet a boost in immunity, try Zesty Paws Allergy Immune Bites. Remember that your pet can become infected with kennel cough by just simply walking around the block. Speak with your veterinarian regarding what is best for your pet.

I hope this article helps all my pet parents out there to be more aware of kennel cough, the clinical signs to look for, and how we can protect our pets. Use caution when bringing your pets to areas with many dogs, and make sure your pet is protected with the Bordetella vaccination. My goal is to always keep our pets safe and healthy. If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian. They are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Alison Birken bio