Kennel Cough In Dogs

Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis, commonly known as kennel cough, is a contagious respiratory tract infection in dogs. It is actually a complex of infections. The chief agent is a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica and it is usually accompanied by at least one other infectious agent, commonly Canine Parainfluenza Virus or Canine Adenovirus Type 2.

A normal respiratory tract enables debris and infectious agents to be trapped and moved upwards towards the throat where they are coughed up and/or swallowed. Your dog can develop kennel cough when the defense mechanisms are damaged by factors such as:

  • crowding stress
  • poor ventilation
  • heavy dust exposuure
  • infectious agents

Kennel cough is characterised by a harsh, high-pitched hacking cough often described as a “goose honk”. The cough can be dry or productive and is followed by a gag, swallowing action and production of foamy mucus.

Kennel cough is diagnosed with a combination of history of exposure to areas crowded with dogs, a complete physical examination (e.g. coughing on tracheal palpation) as well as diagnostic tests (e.g. radiography).

Common risk areas of infections are boarding kennels, shelters, grooming centres, local parks & vet clinic waiting areas.

Kennel cough usually resolves without medication but severe cases may require antibiotics and cough suppressants to provide comfort during recovery. The dog will improve partially after a week of treatment. However, a failure of kennel cough to resolve suggests an underlying condition and a re-check examination is necessary.

An infected dog can shed the Bordetella organism to other dogs for 2 to 3 months post-recovery. Dogs who have recovered from the infection are usually immune to re-infection for 6 to 12 months.

Kennel cough is contagious. If you suspect your dog has kennel cough, isolate him from other dogs to prevent it from spreading. Vaccination is recommended at least 5 days prior to possible exposure to infection (e.g. if your dog is going to a boarding kennel). Speak with your vet about your dog’s individual needs.

Vaccination against kennel cough is not expected to completely prevent the risk of infection but will minimise the symptoms of illness. Some dogs may experience sneezing or nasal discharge following vaccination which should clear up on its own.

Contributed by Dr Jade Lim, Mount Pleasant Vet Centre (Mandai)