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— March 17, 2015 —
Current Event: Kennel Cough Outbreak
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

We recently received an email from our vet. There seems to be a city-wide outbreak of kennel cough.

Every couple of years, it seems that there is some kind of outbreak that affects our dogs. This year, we seem to be having a particular wide-spread case of kennel cough. Our vet is telling us that they are seeing kennel cough at almost unprecedented levels this time of year. There is a bit of a stigma when it comes to the term “kennel cough.” Now days, since our dogs are going to many more places that they used to, we are understanding that dogs can contract these infections literally anywhere. More recently, vets are starting to use the more technically correct term “canine upper respiratory infection” or “canine infectious tracheobronchitis.” For the sake of brevity, I’ll still refer to it as kennel cough.

Kennel cough is a catch-all term. It technically refers to Bordetella bronchiseptica, but the term is often used for a number of bacterial and viral infections that make dogs cough. Kennel cough can be caused by the Bordetella bacteria, but coughing can also caused by viruses such as canine influenza.

Kennel cough can sound like anything from a throat clearing cough to a “honking” sound. Sometimes a coughing dog will become a bit lethargic and may have a slight decrease in appetite. Simple kennel cough usually lasts from 2 to 4 weeks, but elderly or immunocompromised dogs can take longer to get over it. Also, elderly or immunocompromised are more likely to develop serious secondary infections.

The coughing symptoms are usually not serious and most dogs recover, however these infections can develop into secondary infections such as pneumonia. If your dog develops a cough and starts to show a nasty, green nasal discharge, we recommend a trip to the vet. In the case of this particular outbreak, we are erring on the side of caution and putting all coughing dogs on antibiotics, nasal discharge or not.

Kennel cough is impossible to eliminate entirely, because dogs can be contagious without showing any symptoms. Also, as an airborne illness, it can be transmitted through the air even if surfaces are kept immaculately clean. Bacterial and viral kennel cough can be transmitted through the air. If you walk by a yard with an infected dog, your dog can be infected. If you go to a dog park, or live near one, your dog can catch it. Dogs have been shown to catch canine influenza from simply living near greyhound racing tracks, where canine influenza is believed to have originated. I have even read anecdotal reports of dogs being infected by sick dogs over two miles away. If a dog at our facility shows symptoms of kennel cough, we isolate them and ask the owners to come and get them as soon as possible.

Kennel cough is called “kennel cough” because many dogs come home from a boarding situation with a cough. We find this to be most common with dogs that have not had interaction with large numbers of dogs. If a dog lives in a yard or home, and never goes anywhere, he won’t get the immune system challenges that a more socialized dog will get, therefore he never develops immunity to these various minor infections.

There are vaccines available for the Bordetella version and influenza version of kennel cough. Unfortunately, since there are multiple strains of both bugs, the vaccines don’t fully protect our dogs. There is no way to absolutely ensure that a dog won’t develop a cough. We recommend vaccinating dogs for the life-threatening bugs though, and protecting them from as much as possible. In this case, I did recently vaccinate my dog for Bordetella although I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t catch it without the vaccine. I think socialization and exercise, good healthy food and a strong immune system are really your best defense for kennel cough, either viral or bacterial.

My own dogs, Peace and Jelly are at our facility weekly. They are in contact with a large number of dogs. If we have a coughing rescue dog in the facility, we often bring them to our house while they recover. My dogs have not shown symptoms of kennel cough in many years, but we do two very important things to help protect them. First, they are fully vaccinated for the life-threatening illnesses (distemper, parvo etc.) and second, they have been exposed to dogs for as long as we have had them. They are in the facility literally two to three days every week. I firmly believe that the exposure to other dogs has helped to strengthen their immune system. Yes, they both had kennel cough symptoms when they were younger, but neither dog has contracted “kennel cough” through numerous sick dogs being brought home.

Lastly, there are other, more significant illnesses that can cause coughing in the early stages. Distemper can first present with a cough. Distemper in an unvaccinated dog is often fatal. My dogs are vaccinated for distemper and we check titers for immunity every year. If their titer is low, we booster their immunity. Some cardiac issues can also cause a cough. This can only be determined by a vet and a dog with a cardiac cough will have other issues to deal with.

This round of kennel cough seems to be very wide spread. As far as we have heard, dogs are recovering well with veterinary care. Please keep an eye on your dog for symptoms and if they do become ill, please keep them at home while they recover to help minimize the spread.


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