Kennel Cough: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
What Is Kennel Cough?
When Sasha, a three-year-old golden retriever, started coughing, her owner thought she had something stuck in her throat. She was coughing and then gagging as if her throat was irritated by something. When the cough did not resolve within 24 hours, he took Sasha to the vet concerned there must be something blocking her airway.
"My dog seems like he has something stuck in his throat" is something vets often hear from owners, and more often than not it means the dog has kennel cough.
Medically known as bordetella or infectious tracheobronchitis, kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection common in dogs that are gathered together in kennels (hence the name kennel cough) or at dog parks, dog shows, or just about anywhere where airborne viruses can spread from one dog to another.
Dogs affected by kennel cough will often develop symptoms about three to seven days after exposure. The most common symptoms are:
- Dry hacking cough
- "Something stuck in throat" behavior
- Coughing after exercise
- Nasal discharge
- Mucus expelled from mouth following cough
- Lethargy (in severe cases)
- Loss of appetite (in severe cases)
- Fever (in severe cases)
- Pneumonia (in very severe cases)
- Death (in very rare instances)
In Sasha's case, her symptoms appeared a few days after having socialized with other dogs at a dog park. She had not been vaccinated that year against bordetella, so that made her particularly susceptible to the infection. Her health remained normal in some ways: her appetite remained, she was still playful, and her rectal temperature was 100.9o, which is considered normal.
Kennel cough often resolves itself within two to three weeks. Antibiotics and sometimes cough suppressants are often prescribed to prevent complications and speed up recovery. In Sasha's case, a 14-day course was prescribed. She recovered pretty fast, and her cough gradually went away one week following treatment.
Minor cases are often treated at home by clearing up the airway with a non-medicated humidifier or by having the dog breathe in a bathroom full of hot water steam.
Administering Robitussin DM has proved helpful in minor cases, according to veterinarian Dawn Ruben. Nevertheless, as with any medication, it is highly advised to consult a vet first and seek information about side effects, correct dosage, and interactions with other medications.
Bordetella vaccines are very good at preventing this annoying respiratory infection. The vaccine may be administered intranasally or by traditional inoculation. The intranasal form appears to create immunity faster than the inoculation version.
Although kennel cough is a pretty common respiratory disease, any case of coughing needs to be monitored and investigated, as a cough can suggest other more serious problems, even potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, valley fever, or heartworms.
What Kennel Cough Sounds Like
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
My dog sounds as if he has kennel cough, but he has not been around any other dog; he is also very lethargic, even falling asleep while he is standing up! He has not wanted to eat for the last 2 days but the cough did not start until today. Could he have kennel cough without being exposed to it? I did recently clean out the spare bedroom, I read somewhere it can also be caused from dust.
Kennel cough in dogs can be caused by a wide variety of bacterial or viral agents. This happens through contagion, just as us humans get the cold from being around other humans with the cold. Dust cannot cause it, but in a dog with kennel cough dust/smoke or any other irritants may exacerbate it. Sometimes, dogs can get kennel cough without direct exposure e.g.from being in contact with people who have recently been in contact with a dog with kennel cough, or sniffing/licking an area where foxes, coyotes, have licked/coughed on. Your dog may have another condition considering the rather serious signs you are seeing (lethargic, not eating) which are not too common in kennel cough. Hopefully, it has not evolved into secondary pneumonia which can be seen in very young or very old dogs, or those with a compromised immune system.Helpful 8
© 2008 Adrienne Farricelli