The name Kennel Cough is misleading; it should be referred to as “Socialising Dog Cough”. The official term is Infectious Tracheobronchitis, which means inflammation of the windpipe (trachea) and (large) airways (bronchi), caused by infectious agents.
There are several different bugs that can cause the disease, including both bacteria and viruses. They area transmitted on the breath/spit of the dog. The severity and duration of the cough depends on which bug is responsible for your dog’s cough. A cough caused by one of the milder viruses, for example, may only last a few days and cause a coughing fit as a result of pulling on the dog’s collar. If, however, the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica is the culprit, the cough may go on for 6+ weeks, keep everyone awake at night, and need specific antibiotics to shift.
What are the symptoms of Kennel Cough? The most common statement from owners is the suspicion that the dog has something stuck in its throat – it coughs and coughs, getting louder and louder until it makes a retching sound, swallows, and goes quiet. Careful questioning establishes that the dog can eat, drink, and breathe, despite the awful noises being made: nothing is stuck.
A history of having been around other dogs before the cough started also lends weight to the diagnosis. The ‘social’ event could have been kennels, dog sitter, going on a group dog walk, or just being anywhere that is ‘dog-heavy’.
The good things about the disease are – it is not fatal, it cannot be transmitted long distance via the environment, and it will eventually go away. The bad news is that contagion can continue for several weeks after the cough has gone, making your dog a social pariah. The weak or elderly have the potential to suffer permanent lung damage if Bordetella has been involved – it is the cousin of Bordetella pertussis, the causative agent of whooping cough.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the cough and for how long it has been going on. A mild cough may only need time and a cough syrup to help soothe your dog’s throat and settle the cough. The more severe versions might also need antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and medication to permit sleep.
Vaccines are available. How relevant they are will depend hugely on your dog’s lifestyle…. they protect (depending on brand) against the worst bacteria (Bordetella) and virus (Parainfluenza). They do not provide cover against the mild viruses – in the same way a flu vaccine does not stop you catching a cold. Historically, the vaccine was a spray up the nose – a massive turn-off for many dogs and owners. Now, injectable versions are also available – at 124Vet we use one of these.
If you suspect your dog may have Kennel Cough, a thorough check-up at the vet is strongly recommended. Several other conditions, including collapsing trachea and an enlarged heart can mimic the cough of “Socialising Dog Cough”.