Kennel Cough

by Bas van Luijk,

Bas is the Head Veterinarian at East Coast Farm Vets

With the impending dog trialing season almost upon us, now is a good time to discuss kennel cough and how to best look after your dogs.


The technical name for kennel cough or canine cough, is Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis. Which means it affects dogs, is easily passed on from dog to dog and is an inflammation (often associated with swelling and itching) of the upper respiratory system.


Due to the itchiness, the dogs usually cough or retch to try to remove the sensation, which is often greater after exercise or excitement when they are breathing faster. It can look or sound like the dog has got something caught in the back of their throat.


The retching can sometimes be so strong as to produce a yellowish frothy liquid on the floor. Occasionally the inflammation includes the sinuses or nostrils, so vigorous sneezing may also occur. Other clinical signs of disease can include ocular discharge, depression and a slightly elevated temperature. The cough generally starts around 3-10 days after exposure. Some dogs can be carriers for months without exhibiting symptoms.


Kennel cough is caused by a multitude of bacteria and viruses, not all of which can be covered by vaccines. The main infectious agents are the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica and the viruses Parainfluenza and Adenovirus-2. Bordetella bronchiseptica is regarded as the principal causative agent. It is closely related to Bordetella pertussis, the cause of whooping cough in people.


Most often, the dog will show symptoms of persistent coughing, occasional retching and can have an elevated temperature. They can also become listless and not as interested in eating for a few days. The symptoms are usually more distressing to the owners than they are to the dogs. In most cases, the dog will fight off the infection by itself in a few days and be back to normal. It’s important however to rest the dog until recovered, preventing the infection going into the lungs with possible nasty consequences.


In rare instances, the symptoms may persist and get a lot worse as a broncho-pneumonia. These symptoms may include wheezing breath, cloudy discharge from the nostrils or eyes and no eating. Quick veterinary attention is essential in that situation.


Unvaccinated dogs can become affected, and even some vaccinated dogs are getting mild doses of the disease. This is likely to be because there are a large number of suspected infectious agents that can cause kennel cough, and vaccines are only available for the most common ones.


Prevention remains the key! There are different vaccines available of which the intranasal one seems to be the superior vaccine. Talk to your vet for the best vaccination program for your dogs.

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