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Kennel cough: a deadly disease?

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« Kennel cough: a deadly disease? » | This article presents pet owners with kennel cough, a condition owners may have to deal with at some point in their dog’s life. We explain what is kennel cough, how it affects dogs and what dog owners should expect when their beloved companions show the symptoms. 

 

Disclaimer:

  • This blog is intended as a source of general information for pet owners. It does not constitute specific veterinary advice towards a particular medical case. If you are concerned with a particular aspect of your pet’s health, please, book a video appointment to talk with a qualified veterinarian.
Kennel cough: a deadly disease?
Kennel cough: a deadly disease?

Kennel cough is a highly contagious infectious disease

So, how did my dog catch kennel cough?

Kennel cough in dogs is also called canine infectious tracheobronchitis. Most of the time it is a benign disease affecting the respiratory system. Nonetheless, kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease and dogs will likely catch it in places where they meet with other dogs: kennels, groomers, dog shows, boarding facilities and equally at dog parks and veterinary hospitals.

 

Dogs of any age and gender are affected by kennel cough, worldwide. They contaminate each other through contact with mouth and nose or through airborne transmission. Puppy dogs tend to be more prone to the more serious version of the disease which is manifested by pneumonia (chest infection).

 

Kennel cough is a multi factor disease caused by a series of infectious agents listed below:

  • Viruses:
    • Canine parainfluenza virus (CPIV)
    • Canine adenovirus 2 (CAV-2)
    • Canine distemper virus
    • Canine reovirus type 1, 2 or 3
    • Canine herpesvirus
    • Other types
  • Bacteria:
    • Bordetella bronchiseptica
    • Other types
  • Mycoplasme
    • Mycoplasma spp
Additionally, when groups of dogs are maintained in environments of questionable hygiene, they are more likely to catch kennel cough. Dogs who suffer from chronic airway diseases or congenital anomalies are at increased risk for catching kennel cough.

How does kennel cough affect my dog's health?

After initial contact with the infectious agent(s), it will take between 4 and 6 days, on average, for dogs to show symptoms. 

 

In non complicated cases of kennel cough, which generally tend to be the majority of cases, dogs will display the following signs:

  • Typical hacking cough, such as owners often think their dogs have something stuck in their throats 
  • Gagging with sometimes production of mucus
  • Pressure in the throat area will trigger a coughing episode (i.e.: pulling on the lead)

In complicated cases, owners will noticed a severe loss of appetite. The cough will sound moist with production of mucus. Dogs will appear depressed. They will have difficulties breathing and will therefore, not tolerate being exercised.

 

When taken to the vets for examination, mildly affected dogs will cough when their throat is palpated. The rest of their examination will remain unremarkable. Severely affected dogs will have a fluctuating fever and their chest auscultation will reveal abnormal sounds such as crackles or wheezes. 

 

Vets would initially recommend chest x-rays, blood and urine tests as it will help ruling out noninfectious causes of cough. In severe cases, a tracheal wash is indicated to further evaluate the situation. This type of sample helps with the identification of certain cells. The laboratory will also perform a culture and sensitivity test which determines the types of bacteria involved and the most effective antibiotic to prescribe against them.

 

What should I expect when my dog has kennel cough?

If a dog is coughing but otherwise remains unaffected by the disease (eating and alert as usual), then there will be little to worry about. Pet owners will be asked to monitor the situation, isolate their dog, disinfect their toys and environment. Rest is strongly encouraged as it prevents dogs from getting excited; it helps them to ease their coughing. 

 

So, in these cases, the prognosis is excellent and vets are unlikely to prescribe antibiotics. The dog’s immune system is expected to fight the infection within +/- 10 days. In particular cases, it might be necessary to prescribe cough suppressant and antibiotics (i.e.: vets become concerned with secondary bacterial infection).

 

Severe cases of kennel cough, where bronchopneumonia is present, will show on x-rays, bronchoscopy and tracheal lavage samples. Vets will address the issue with a targeted antibiotherapy (culture and sensitivity test results) and other relevant medications. Sometimes, in-hospital supportive care might become necessary to help the dog make it through. Dogs who develop severe pneumonia, affecting several lung lobes are at increased risk of dying.

 

Kennel cough can be prevented with vaccination as well as keeping up with good hygiene practice. Pet owners will need to enquire with their vets about the vaccination schemes they can offer their patients, as well as the levels of protection the vaccine is likely to offer and for how long. 

 

Routinely, boarding facilities, and such other places hosting groups of dogs, are likely to require vaccination against kennel cough. Dogs diagnosed with kennel cough need to be isolated from other dogs, else the disease keeps spreading. Additionally, environments, such as kennels, where dogs have caught and spread the disease, must be evacuated and disinfected thoroughly. 

 

It is worth noting that Bordetella bronchiseptica has the potential to affect immunocompromised people (zoonose).

 

Bordetella bronchiseptica - bacterial culture
Bordetella bronchiseptica - bacterial culture
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