What Should I do If My Dog Contracts Kennel Cough?



I recently took on a new daily client. We will call this puppy Mr. X. One of the main reasons Mr. X’s pet parent chose to hire Happy Walk Happy Dog as a pet sitter is because, this adorable new puppy contracted Kennel cough and it resulted in more bills for the pet parent.

Many new pet parents may not understand that keeping their adorable pets in the kennel may have some benefits but there are many illnesses  your pet could contract because of the exposure. The main one is Kennel Cough.


What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough, which is also called infectious tracheobronchitis or Bordetella, is a very common upper respiratory infection in dogs.

The condition can be triggered by several different viruses and bacteria, but the most common trigger is the presence of both the parainfluenza virus and the bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica.

What Are the General Symptoms of Kennel Cough?

A persistent dry cough with a “honking” sound is the main clue your dog’s caught kennel cough. In most cases, she’ll appear healthy except for the cough. Her appetite and activity level usually won’t change, but don’t be alarmed if she gags and coughs up a white, foamy phlegm—these signs are often worse after exercise, or if she’s excited or pulls against her collar. Some dogs may also develop a fever and nasal discharge.

What Should I Do if I Think My Dog Has Kennel Cough?

If you suspect your dog has kennel cough, immediately isolate her from all other dogs and call your veterinarian.

How Did My Dog Catch Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is highly contagious and can remain infective for 6 to 14 weeks after symptoms resolve. Both viral and bacterial causes of kennel cough are spread in the air by sneezing, coughing dogs.

Healthy dogs inhale the aerosolized respiratory secretions. If the functioning of an otherwise healthy dog’s respiratory tract is compromised by stressors like travel, being housed in a crowded environment, cold temperatures, environmental pollutants like dust or cigarette smoke, or infectious viruses like the parainfluenza virus, reovirus, adenovirus, or the distemper virus, then Bordetella bronchiseptica – the chief infectious bacterial agent of kennel cough – can enter the respiratory tract.

Bordetella bacteria are usually accompanied by at least one other infectious agent, usually a virus. So kennel cough is actually multiple infections and not just a single infection.

Dogs can catch kennel cough in several ways. It can spread through aerosols in the air, directly from dog to dog, or through germs on contaminated objects. Kennel cough is often spread in enclosed areas with poor air circulation—while boarding in a kennel or an animal shelter, for example, or through direct contact while sitting in a vaccination clinic, training class or dog-grooming facility.

Kennel cough is so contagious that your pet might even catch it from sharing a water dish at the dog park or by simply greeting another dog.



Which Dogs Are Prone to Kennel Cough And  What Are Its Symptoms?

Most often, dogs who have frequent contact with other dogs, especially in enclosed or poorly ventilated areas, are most prone to becoming infected. Young and unvaccinated dogs are also at higher risk.

Generally speaking, if an otherwise healthy dog suddenly begins coughing, it’s usually due to an infection in the form of some type of kennel cough, virus, bacteria, or a combination.

A sudden dry hacking cough, sneezing, snorting, retching, gagging, or vomiting in response to very light pressure to the trachea, or a spasmodic cough when a dog is excited or exercising – these are all common symptoms of kennel cough. A nasal discharge may be present, and sometimes there can also be fever.

Symptoms typically occur 2 to 14 days after exposure in mild cases of kennel cough. Dogs usually continue to eat and remain alert.

When the condition is more serious, dogs can become lethargic. They can lose their appetite. Pneumonia can develop. And in the worst case scenario, death can occur.

Severe cases of kennel cough primarily occur in immunocompromised dogs or in very young puppies. It’s rare to lose a dog with a competent immune system to kennel cough

How Is Kennel Cough Prevented? 

The best way to prevent kennel cough is to prevent exposure. Vaccinations are also available for several of the agents known to be involved in kennel cough, including parainfluenza, bordetella and adenovirus-2. Ask your vet if these are recommended, and how often—but please keep in mind that vaccinations aren’t useful if a dog has already caught the virus.

How Is Kennel Cough Diagnosed and What Treatment Options Are Available?

Diagnosis is made by observing one or more of the symptoms listed above, often coupled with a history of the dog having spent time at a boarding facility, puppy mill or shelter.

Bacterial cultures, viral isolations, and bloodwork can be performed to identify the specific pathogens causing the exact type of kennel cough the dog has. Some vets take x-rays, which can show bronchitis.

Kennel cough symptoms usually last between 10 and 20 days and can recur during periods of stress. Complete recovery from kennel cough can take up to three weeks in healthy dogs, and twice as long in older patients or in dogs with underlying immunosuppressive conditions. Puppies can also take a bit longer to recover.

Since a serious episode of kennel cough can result in pneumonia, if your dog doesn’t start to improve on her own within about a week, or if the cough becomes progressively worse, it’s important to make an appointment with your vet to be on the safe side.

It’s smart to see your veterinarian if your dog develops a cough. In some cases, you may be advised to simply let kennel cough run its course and heed the following:

  • Dogs with kennel cough should be isolated from other dogs.
  • A humidifier or vaporizer can provide some relief. You can also allow your dog into the bathroom while you shower. The steam will help soothe her irritated breathing passages.
  • Avoid exposing her to cigarette smoke or other noxious, irritating fumes.
  • A cough suppressant or antimicrobial may be prescribed. Your vet can be able to determine if they would be helpful to your dog.
  • If your dog pulls against her collar while being walked, replace it with a harness until the coughing subsides.
  • Supportive care is very important—be sure your dog is eating, drinking and in a stress-free environment.

With the guidance of your holistic vet, you can also consider using echinacea, vitamin C, and the herbs astragalus and olive leaf. I also recommend slippery elm and raw honey, which both help to reduce the incidence of coughing.

You can also consider diffusing therapeutic antiviral essential oils.

As always, you should talk to your holistic vet about what natural remedies you’re interested in using, as well as the doses that are most appropriate for your pet.

Bordetella Vaccines

Many veterinarians recommend Bordetella vaccines. Quite honestly, it is not neccessary.

And many boarding facilities, kennels, doggy daycares, groomers, and even some veterinarians require dogs be vaccinated for kennel cough. Please understand the only reason these institutions demand your pet be vaccinated is to remove liability from themselves. They’re just bouncing liability away from their businesses by requiring your pet be vaccinated for kennel cough. The fact is the Bordetella vaccines are, for the most part, totally useless. They won’t prevent your dog or any dog from acquiring kennel cough.

As I discussed earlier, kennel cough is most often a complex cocktail of different infections and not just a single infection. Because it’s caused by a variety of different bacterial and viral agents, there’s no one single vaccine that can provide protection for all of those different infectious agents.

Not only that, but whatever protection the vaccine might offer wears off very quickly, usually in less than a year, which means your pet will need to be revaccinated at least annually if you patronize pet care businesses that demand the vaccine.

But if for some reason you must vaccinate with the injectable Bordetella vaccine, I recommend you consult your holistic vet about detox options. The important thing to remember is that your dog can still get kennel cough even if he or she has been recently vaccinated. So I strongly recommend that you avoid this unnecessary and frequently ineffective vaccine if at all possible.

I do recommend that you focus on keeping your pet’s immune system strong and vibrant, which is really the very best defense against kennel cough. And quite honestly, I would not keep my dog in a kennel for an extended. Having a professional pet sitter care, such as Happy Walk Happy Dog, for your dog in its own environment is one of your safest bets.



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