Kennel Cough Update – Prevention and Treatment

Since we see quite a few dogs from shelters and rescues, I thought it important to discuss Bordatella, also known as kennel cough. The past few weeks has seen a sharp increase in cases of Bordatellosis.

Kennel cough complex, a syndrome caused by several bacteria and / or viruses, causes dogs to have a hacking cough, possible fever, and occasional snotty nose. The most common cause is Bordetella bronchiseptica, a bacteria. It’s a very commonly diagnosed condition and is generally easy to treat with oral antibiotics. Frequently, the cases are mild and resolve on their own. A vaccine is available that may protect your dog from certain causes of kennel cough. And most important: all dogs can get it – dog park dogs, neighborhood dogs, those that go to camp or the groomer, day care dogs and dogs that rarely interact with other pups.

Clinical Signs / Symptoms
The first sign of a Bordatella infection is a hacking, or honking cough. Many people at first think their dog is gagging or trying to vomit. It sounds as if something is stuck in their throat. In more severe cases, the dog may be lethargic, have a fever and even a runny nose. In many adult dogs with mild cases, it simply goes away on its own. Puppies and immune-compromised dogs are much more susceptible to Bordatella and viruses and can develop pneumonia, which may be severe.

Clinical signs can start 2 – 14 days from the time of initial infection. This is why newly adopted dogs frequently will become sick after a week at their new home. It’s all the stress associated with the shelter, moving to a new environment and being unsettled for a long time.

The cough itself usually comes from inflammation in the trachea, otherwise known as the windpipe. Basically, it itches. Another name for kennel cough is tracheobronchitis.

In general we do not test dogs for Bordatella since it requires a few days to return from the lab and we generally would treat the dog based upon history and clinical signs. In some cases we do recommend chest x-rays to see if there is pneumonia or other problems present.

There are no breeds that are reported to get Bordatella more than others, but personally, I’m more concerned about bulldogs and other “smoosh-faced” dogs and highly social dogs.

In some cases we allow the dog to heal on his or her own, but in others we may intervene with oral antibiotics, if generally mild. Supportive care is used in more severe cases and may include a cough suppressant, antibiotics, fluids, an inhaler, nebulization of medications and nutritional support. We also recommend using a harness instead of a collar – it takes pressure off of the trachea, decreasing coughing and irritation.

First of all – one does not get kennel cough from going to a kennel – the dog simply contracts the causative agent from another dog. It could be anywhere – the park, at the groomer’s, on the sidewalk, in daycare, you get the point. It is more frequent in high-density housing areas such as kennels, daycares and shelters as infections can spread more rapidly in these environments.

If your dog is coughing or not feeling well, please keep him or her away from other dogs until the cough has resolved or until cleared for play by your veterinarian. This is the best measure that you can take to keep Bordatella from spreading.

We highly encourage all dogs to be vaccinated against Bordatella once per year. We use either an oral vaccine or an injectable vaccine. The use of either may depend upon your dog’s specific needs. The vaccines are not fool-proof and dogs may still get a cough, but is usually much less severe than if the dog was not vaccinated. Some boarding facilities require dogs to be vaccinated every 6 months. There is no ill effect to vaccinating on this schedule. Do not hesitate to ask any of us here at District Veterinary Hospital about Bordatella.

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