Vail Pet Talk column: Tips for handling kennel cough |

Vail Pet Talk column: Tips for handling kennel cough

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM
Pet Talk
Although kennel cough can be alarming for pet owners, it is not considered a vertinary emergency, unless your pet is already ill from another systemic virus or has a weak immune system, in which caste it become a bigger health risk.
Sheila Fitzpatrick | Special to the Daily |

It was 6:30 a.m. and my emergency phone rang.

“Doc, my dog is coughing really hard. He acts as though he’s got something stuck in his throat. Can I come in?”

Over the past week, this has been a common call here in the Vail Valley for veterinarians, both during office hours and after hours, as there has been a rise in kennel cough, otherwise called “Bordetella.” Symptoms include a dry, hacking, yet forceful cough, as though your pet is trying to clear their throat or cough something up.

Some dogs with kennel cough may also show other symptoms of upper respiratory illness, such as sneezing, a runny nose, as well as eye discharge. Most pets are not lethargic and do not stop eating or drinking when infected with kennel cough.

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.


Kennel cough is commonly found where pets congregate, such as boarding facilities, doggy day care, grooming facilities, dog shows and dog parks. Dogs spread the disease through both airborne methods, touching noses or breathing out the virus which another pet inhales. They also pass it along when a pet comes in contact with contaminated surfaces such as water bowls and kennels where an infected pet has just been.

Through a variety of viruses, dogs can acquire 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 yet forceful cough you here when your pet is infected.

Treating Kennel Cough

With mild forms of the disease, your pet will get better with rest. It is very important to contact your veterinarian so that he/she 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.

How do you prevent kennel cough? There is an oral, injectable and nasal vaccination available for Bordetella, which, depending on your veterinarian and your area, can be boostered every six months to a year.

Unfortunately, because kennel cough can also be caused by other agents, it is not guaranteed that your pet won’t develop kennel cough from these other agents. Still, if your pet will be frequenting the kennel, groomer, dog parks and other congregated areas, then ask your veterinarian as to what their current protocol for prevention is.

Finally, be smart. If your pet is coughing, then segregate him/her 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, owner of Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center, submitted this column. You can reach her at 970-328-7085.

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