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Eric Barchas, DVM is a veterinarian who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. His emphasis is on small animal medicine, emergency medicine, hospice and wellness. An avid traveler, he has studied lions in Botswana and salmon in southern Chile.

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Kennel Cough (Infectious Tracheobronchitis) in Dogs

Animals Affected

Dogs

Overview

Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis (ITB), is a contagious disease of dogs.   A large number of organisms are believed to play a role in the syndrome. Kennel cough most often is caused by simultaneous infection with a mild respiratory virus (there are many such viruses) in combination with a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. The infection usually is limited to the windpipe (trachea) and major air passages in the lungs.

The syndrome causes coughing due to throat irritation.   Although the coughing is severe in some cases, usually no other symptoms occur.  Kennel cough generally resolves within two weeks.   Kennel cough usually does not lead to serious long-term health problems.

Symptoms

  • Coughing is the hallmark symptom of kennel cough.  Coughing may be especially pronounced when the dog is excited, breathing hard, or pulling on a leash.
  • Some dogs with severe coughing may gag or vomit as a consequence of the violent coughing.
  • Dogs with kennel cough generally do not develop symptoms such as lethargy, low appetite, or decreased desire to play.  Dogs with the syndrome usually do not feel sick.

Risk Factors and Prevention

  • Dogs contract kennel cough through exposure to an affected individual. This is most likely to occur when pets are exposed to large numbers of other dogs, as happens in most kennels.
  • Dogs who are under stress have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to kennel cough.
  • Each dog has an individual susceptibility to kennel cough that is related to the way its immune system functions.  If several dogs are exposed to the disease at the same time, some may develop the syndrome while others may not.
  • Several commercially available vaccines claim to offer protection against kennel cough.   Experts do not agree on how effective the vaccines are, which vaccine is best, or how often dogs should be vaccinated.  Dogs that are vaccinated against kennel cough can still be affected by the disease.  However, it is thought that the vaccine reduces the likelihood of dogs developing severe symptoms of kennel cough.

Complications

  • Kennel cough is contagious and may spread to dogs that come in contact with an affected individual.
  • Kennel cough can lead to severe coughing and a painful sore throat.
  • Rarely, kennel cough can lead to infection deeper in the lungs (pneumonia).
  • Kennel cough can be a frustrating syndrome.  In some cases coughing may persist for several weeks after diagnosis.

Diagnosis

Kennel cough is often diagnosed on the basis of a history of coughing in combination with physical exam findings consistent with the syndrome.  Dogs with the syndrome usually cough when their trachea (windpipe) is manually stimulated.

In some cases, veterinarians may recommend X-rays or other tests to ensure that other causes of coughing are not contributing to the symptoms.

Treatment

Kennel cough is self-limiting in most cases.   Affected individuals should be allowed to rest and should be fed a high-quality diet to help strengthen their immune systems.

Antibiotics may help to eliminate infection with Bordetella and prevent pneumonia from developing.

Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to reduce irritation and pain in the throat.

Dogs with severe coughing may benefit from cough suppressants.

To prevent spread of the disease, dogs with kennel cough should avoid contact with other dogs.

Follow-up

The symptoms of kennel cough usually improve gradually over one or two weeks.  Some dogs experience mild residual coughing for several weeks beyond this time due to ongoing irritation of the throat.

Dogs whose coughing shows no improvement within a week, and dogs who develop symptoms such as lethargy or decreased appetite should be reassessed by a veterinarian to ensure no other syndrome is playing a role in the symptoms.

Miscellaneous

Many boarding and grooming facilities require dogs to be vaccinated against kennel cough every 6 - 12 months.

Bordetella has been cultured in AIDS patients with compromised immune systems. People with weakened immune systems should exercise caution around coughing pets.

Bordetella can infect cats. However, the pathogenicity of the bacteria in cats is debated by veterinarians.

Bordetella bronchiseptica, which contributes to kennel cough in dogs, is related to the bacteria that causes whooping cough in people.  However, Bordetella bronchiseptica is not thought to pose a health risk to people with healthy immune systems.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM. All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.

 

 

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