Kennel Cough 101
Kennel Cough: Is Your Dog At Risk? by Amy Mortensen
What were those hacking sounds in the hallways of Stafford Animal Shelter? The facility’s dog wing was recently hit with an outbreak of “kennel cough” (as if life weren’t tough enough for those pups!), a respiratory illness common to canines living in close quarters. This was the shelter’s first outbreak of the disease in many years, but luckily kennel cough is easily treatable, and the staff was able to swiftly treat and quarantine the dogs until all were healthy again.
Kennel cough is often associated with animal shelters, but did you know outbreaks are also common in places frequented by pets? Dogs that are boarded, attend training classes, or even play at the dog park are prone to this highly contagious disease. Could your pet be at risk? To find out, read about the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment of this common canine ailment.
Kennel cough, also referred to as bordetella, is similar to a chest cold in humans. Much how colds spread faster in schools and offices, kennel cough most commonly affects dogs who have frequent contact with other dogs, especially in enclosed spaces. Because the illness can spread several different ways—through contaminated surfaces, direct contact with other dogs or with people’s clothing and shoes, or simply through the air—just being in the same vicinity as an infected animal could be enough for your dog to catch it.
Are certain dogs more susceptible to catching kennel cough? Well, dogs experiencing high levels of stress have shown to be more disposed, which explains why many outbreaks occur in animal shelters and boarding facilities. Additionally, young puppies and older dogs, as well as unvaccinated dogs, may be at a higher risk.
As you might have guessed, the most common symptom of kennel cough is a loud, persistent cough. The cough can present as a hacking, honking, choking, or retching noise and may sound worse after exercise or excitement. Other symptoms can include sneezing, eye discharge, or a runny nose, but the dog’s energy level and appetite will typically be unaffected.
Though kennel cough may sound awful (and leave an owner considering rushing his or her pup to the emergency room), the vast majority of cases are not serious. However, severe cases can occur in young puppies and immunocompromised dogs and progress into pneumonia if left untreated. In these cases, symptoms could include fever, lethargy, rapid breathing, and loss of appetite, and the owner should consult a veterinarian immediately.
There is no surefire way to protect your dog from kennel cough, as the symptoms can be caused by numerous viruses, not all of which can be vaccinated against. However, your veterinarian can discuss with you the available vaccinations that block some of these agents and lessen your dog’s chances of contracting specific strains of the disease.
It’s important to remember that outbreaks of kennel cough can’t necessarily be attributed to cleaning or disinfecting practices, as the airborne nature of the disease makes it difficult to contain despite a facility’s best efforts at decontamination. Even the most responsible animal caretakers may not be able to prevent an outbreak, but they will immediately notify owners if they learn a dog in their care has contracted the illness.
Owners should always contact a veterinarian if a pet is exhibiting the symptoms of kennel cough. Antibiotics or cough suppressants may be prescribed, but some owners may be advised to simply let the cough run its course. In most cases, the symptoms will subside and disappear within two or three weeks.
Whatever the treatment, a dog with kennel cough should always be isolated from other dogs for at least three weeks to prevent the illness from spreading—even if a dog’s symptoms improve, the cough could still be contagious. To aid in the healing process, owners should try to maintain a relatively stress-free environment, minimize barking, and ensure that the dog is eating and drinking normally. A vaporizer or humidifier may provide some relief, and the dog should be kept clear of cigarette smoke and other fumes that can irritate the respiratory system. Using a harness during walks will reduce stress on the trachea (windpipe), especially for dogs that pull.
A high percentage of dogs will develop kennel cough at least once in their lifetime. If yours is affected, following the tips in this article and providing plenty of loving care should have your pup back in tip-top shape in no time. And what about the dogs at the Stafford Animal Shelter? The staff is happy to report that they’re once again happy, healthy, and eagerly awaiting their forever homes. See all the shelter’s adoptable pets at 3 Business Park Road, east of Livingston, or online at staffordanimalshelter.org.
Amy Mortensen is a freelance writer and editor living in Livingston. You can find her on the Web at RiverbendEditorial.com.