Pet Talk: Kennel cough in dogs

As spring rolls around and more dogs are placed in kennels, a kennel cough outbreak is brewing. Watch for symptoms in your dog and speak with your vet about prevention.
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Spring break is here. After a long, harsh winter, it’s almost inconceivable that there will be a spring, but still, locals are getting anxious to head to warmer climates for the brief break ahead. As pet owners begin leaving the valley in droves, their loving pets are put in boarding facilities. As the number of pets in those facilities increase, so does the potential increase for contagious viruses to effect a large volume of pets in a short time.

Unfortunately this past week, we had another outbreak of such a virus. It only takes one pet to bring a virus into a kennel. Luckily, most of these contagious viruses are not life threatening but they can certainly cause stress and lack of sleep for a worried pet owner.

Over the past week, veterinarians have seen a rise in the number of cases of what we call kennel cough. Kennel cough, otherwise called “bordetella,” has classic symptoms consisting of a dry, hacking, forceful cough, and most clients will describe their pet’s symptoms as it sounds as though their pet is trying to clear the throat or cough something up.

Unfortunately, many dogs with kennel cough may also exhibit other symptoms of upper respiratory illness, such as sneezing, a runny nose, as well as ocular (eye) discharge. Most pets are not lethargic, and do not stop eating or drinking when infected with kennel cough; it is more so uncomfortable for the pet as they continue to cough uncontrollably.

Although the cough can be alarming for many unknowing pet owners, it is not considered a veterinary emergency unless your pet is already ill from another systemic virus, or immune compromised, in which case it can become a bigger health risk for your pet.

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Kennel cough is commonly found where pets congregate, such as boarding facilities, doggy day care, grooming facilities, dog shows and dog parks. So many of my clients will decline a bordetella vaccine saying, “I don’t kennel my dog.” Unfortunately, because dogs spread the disease through both airborne methods (touching noses or breathing out the virus which another pet shall inhale) or through coming in contact with contaminated surfaces (such as water bowls and kennels where an infected pet has just been), they can succumb to the virus almost anywhere.

The method of contracting this disease usually involves your pet coming in contact with the bordetella bronchiseptica species, but often times, your pet acquires a virus at the same time. There are innumerable viruses such as the canine adenovirus, canine distemper virus, the parainfluenza virus, as well as mycoplasma, which can all be factors in the development of the kennel cough cascade. Dogs acquire these organisms through their respiratory tract, and the particles get caught in the mucous and subsequently cause inflammation of both the larynx (voice box) and the trachea (wind pipe) which results in that dry, hacking, forceful cough you hear when your pet is infected.

With mild forms of the disease, your pet will get better just with rest. It is very important to contact your veterinarian so that they may determine the best course of action for your pet based on the symptoms. Often times, your veterinarian will prescribe anti-tussive medications (cough medicine) as well as antibiotics for infection. Your veterinarian may also recommend taking your pet’s collar off and utilizing a harness, so as to relieve pressure on the upper respiratory tract, as well as rest and no contact with other dogs. Luckily, your pet will recover quickly.

Prevention Methods

How do you prevent this? There is an oral, injectable and nasal vaccination available for bordetella, which, depending on your veterinarian and your area, can be bolstered every six months to a year. Unfortunately, because kennel cough can also be caused by other agents, it is not guaranteed that your pet cannot develop kennel cough from these other agents. Still, if your pet will be frequenting the kennel, groomer, dog parks or other congregated areas, ask your veterinarian as to what their current protocol for prevention is.

Finally, be smart. If your pet is coughing, segregate them from other dogs. In addition, remember that kennel cough is not the only reason for coughing in pets. Your pet may also have other conditions including, but not limited to, collapsing trachea (common in little dogs), allergic bronchitis, asthma, neoplasia or even heart disease, so don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian and have your pet evaluated.

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, is the owner of Mountain Animal Hospital Center and Mobile Veterinarian.

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