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You just adopted a healthy, energetic dog from your local animal shelter. Congratulations! But on her second day home, she develops a runny nose and a cough that sounds like a goose honking. Your precious new pet may have kennel cough.
Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory condition that dogs may contract in places where they’re hanging out in a group, such as doggy daycare, grooming facilities, and animal shelters. It isn’t pleasant, but the good news is, kennel cough is a very common and relatively minor condition. It often clears up without intervention.
Read on to learn how to identify and treat kennel cough.
What Is Kennel Cough?
Kennel cough is often referred to as “the common cold for dogs.” It’s actually more similar to bronchitis or a chest cold. The scientific name for kennel cough is canine infectious tracheobronchitis, and like a human cold, it can have many different origins.
The most common cause of kennel cough is the bordatella bronchiseptica bacterium, AKA Bordatella. Bordatella often shows up alongside viruses that can make dogs more susceptible to infection, including parainfluenza virus, canine distemper virus, and canine adenovirus (source).
So what happens when one or more of those bacteria and viruses get in your dog’s system? Basically, they stick in her respiratory track and weaken her immune system, leading to an inflamed larynx and that distinct, honky cough.
How is Kennel Cough Transmitted?
Kennel cough is known for being particularly contagious because it’s easily transmittable in the air and through liquids. Here are a few ways dogs may catch kennel cough:
- Through the air, particularly in enclosed areas with poor air circulation (i.e. a kennel or shelter)
- From germs on contaminated surfaces such as toys or shared food and water bowls
- Via direct contact with an infected dog
Symptoms don’t show up until four to ten days from exposure, making kennel cough particularly tricky to catch before it spreads to more dogs!
Kennel Cough Symptoms
The most common, recognizable symptom of kennel cough is—you guessed it—the cough! As heard in the video above, a classic kennel cough is persistent and forceful, often with a honking sound.
Other symptoms of kennel cough can include:
- Runny nose and eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Low fever
In many cases, the cough will be the noticeable symptom. If your dog demonstrates other symptoms, it’s time for a vet visit!
What to Do if You Think Your Dog Has Kennel Cough
If your dog starts coughing, immediately isolate her from other dogs, and get to the vet. For most otherwise healthy dogs, kennel cough is a “wait it out” affliction and typically doesn’t require treatment. Still, your vet can confirm the diagnosis and discuss any treatment necessary.
Most of the time, mild cases of kennel cough are treated with a week or two of rest and isolation from other dogs. Sometimes, your vet may prescribe antibiotics to prevent a secondary infection.
Other treatment for kennel cough can include:
- Exposure to a humidifier, vaporizer or steam from a shower to relieve breathing passages
- Avoiding exposure to smoke or other irritating fumes
- A cough suppressant prescribed by the vet
- Switching your dog from a collar to a harness to avoid putting irritating pressure on her throat
For puppies, seniors, and dogs with other health issues, kennel cough can sometimes lead to more serious infections, including pneumonia. Go back to the vet if your dog’s symptoms worsen or change.
How to Prevent Kennel Cough
The easiest way to prevent kennel cough is to prevent exposure! However, it can be hard to know when your dog has been exposed to kennel cough, as it’s contagious before symptoms show up.
Vaccinations are the most active step you can take towards preventing kennel cough. Many of the core vaccines recommended for your dog include protection against some of its root viruses, and the Bordatella vaccination protects against the most common cause. Most doggy daycares and training facilities require a Bordatella vaccination every six months to control the spread of kennel cough.
If your dog has never had kennel cough, count yourself lucky! It’s incredibly common, particularly for dogs who have just come out of a shelter environment. Although the cough itself can sound disturbing, don’t worry: in the vast majority of cases, kennel cough is a minor annoyance that will clear up within a few weeks.
Hero image via Flickr