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Kennel Cough (Acute Tracheobronchitis)

Updated: May 4, 2021

What is kennel cough?


Kennel cough is a common upper respiratory tract disease caused by multiple infectious agents, complicated by management and patient factors. The disease now has a new name, Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC) to highlight the complex, multifactorial and the involvement of the host immunity and environmental factors.

The disease used to be referred to as kennel cough and infectious tracheobronchitis. However, CIRDC is now preferred, The causal agents are a mixture of viruses and bacteria including one or a combination of infectious agents: Streptococcus zooepidemicus, Canine distemper virus, canine herpes virus, Mycoplasma canis, Influenza virus (formerly equine influenza H3N8), Canine parainfluenzavirus, Canine adenovirus, canine respiratory coronavirus and Bordetella bronchiseptica. These agents cause irritation to the windpipe resulting in coughing. In healthy dogs, kennel cough is not a severe disease. However, it is very contagious and will spread rapidly around the dog population. It is called kennel cough because it is so infectious that if one dog in a kennel gets it, the cough will spread rapidly through the rest of the dogs there. As its name suggests, it causes coughing that can go on for a month in some cases.

Which areas are prone to the spread kennel cough?

  • Dog shelters

  • Clinics

  • Pet shops

  • Grooming parlours

  • Dog shows

  • Dog training classes

  • Dog parks

Which breeds and ages are predisposed to kennel cough?

  • All breeds are vulnerable.

  • All ages vulnerable

  • Breeds with pre-existing upper airway disorders may have more severe disease, eg brachycephalics (short-muzzle and flattened face dogs), dogs with tracheal collapse.

  • Younger and geriatric (old) dogs may have more severe disease.

  • Dogs less than 6 months of age with concurrent disease, e.g., canine distemper, canine parvovirus infection

What are the influencing factors to kennel cough?

  • Dogs in close contact e.g. shared airspace in kennels

  • Difficulty in screening new arrivals

  • Frequent introduction of new animals in animal shelters/boarding kennels, especially non-vaccinates.

  • Immunocompromised dogs, e.g., young animals, concurrent disease, parasites, poor husbandry.

  • Exposure to high pathogen load, or concurrent exposure to multiple different pathogens.

  • Stress, e.g., change of housing (barking in boarding kennel).

What are the clinical signs of kennel cough?


The main clinical sign is an acute onset of a dry hacking cough and may retch at the end of it, or the owner may report vomiting. Occasionally, the dog may sneeze or have a nasal discharge. There also could be a history of recent exposure to other dogs in the last week or so. Often the cough sounds as if the dog is choking on something stuck in his throat.

Most dogs are not really in poor health; however, sometimes they may have a high temperature and are a little dull and listless for a day or two. The dog may rarely also be lacking an appetite.

The cough gets worse for a few days and then gradually goes away after about three weeks.

Is there any treatment for the cough?


Essentially, the dogs have to fight off the infection themselves. However, there are treatments that can be administered to encourage quick recovery, if the infection spreads to the chest, or if the dog is unwell. The treatment involves administration of antibiotics. These will not stop the coughing more quickly, nor will they make it safe for the dog to mix with other dogs. Some cough linctus may also be prescribed to make the coughing less severe in particularly acute coughing fits.

What other measures are there to help my dog?


Coughing is brought on by exercise, excitement and exposure to cold air. If the dog has kennel cough, the canine needs to be kept in a warm environment (where possible) and try as much as possible not to exercise them. Situations, where the dog is likely to bark, should be avoided, as this is highly likely to cause coughing. If the dog usually wears a collar, this should be taken off, to stop it irritating his throat, and walk him outside with a harness or halter and lead instead. Above all, it is essential to be responsible, remembering that other dogs are at risk of catching the cough from your dog. The dog should not be taken to places where he is likely to meet other dogs (particularly in closed spaces like dog training classes) while he is still coughing and for a few days after.

How soon is recovery expected?


Most dogs recover quickly from kennel cough. A young, otherwise healthy dog, should not be unwell with the disease and the cough should get better within 2-3 weeks. Very young or old dogs and dogs with other conditions may be much more severely affected by kennel cough. It would be very unusual indeed for a dog to die as a direct result of catching kennel cough.

How can kennel cough be prevented?

Kennel Cough Vaccine

There are several vaccines available which can protect your dog against the different viruses and bacteria that can cause kennel cough. Many of these vaccines are traditionally given as drops into the nose, although some are available as injections too.

Is it necessary to vaccinate dogs against kennel cough?


In countries where the vaccine is available, it is crucial to get it done before agreeing to take your dogs for boarding. This is to prevent the spread of the disease through other dogs in the kennel. Even if the dog is fit and healthy and would not suffer as a result of catching kennel cough; there may be older or more vulnerable dogs staying in the kennels at the same time. The protection is given by the specific kennel cough vaccinations when they are administered into the nose (intranasal)and lasts 12 months. This vaccine is usually separated from the dog's routine boosters. Most dogs only receive intranasal kennel cough vaccinations at times of potentially high risk, i.e., before going into kennels, about 14 days before the animal is admitted to kennels.

Is there a Public health concern?


Generally, there is no public health concern as most agents are species-specific. Rarely are there reports of transmission of infection to immunosuppressed humans.

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