Kennel cough is contagious and a threat to pet health

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… eight dogs a- coughing? If you board your pet with any frequency you probably are aware of kennel cough, a highly contagious disease that can spread rapidly in a kennel environment. If you are planning to board your pet over the holidays, or any time of year, this potentially serious illness should be on your radar.

In this modern era of vaccines and cleanliness, you might wonder why kennel cough is still so prevalent. As always, your team at Animal Medical Hospital & Urgent Care will do our best to answer your questions, and to reassure you that you the power to keep your pet well lies with you!

Kennel Cough Facts

The term ‘kennel cough’ refers not to one specific disease, but rather to a condition called canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) complex. This condition results in a cough and other respiratory symptoms that caused by one or more viruses or bacteria in the environment.

While we vaccinate against some of the more common culprits involved in CIRD, there are many potential players. Most dogs who are at high risk are vaccinated against Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza, canine adenovirus 2, and canine influenza. We can also see other infectious agents like Mycoplasma, herpesvirus, and reovirus involved.

Symptoms are related to inflammation and infection of the trachea (windpipe) and bronchi within the lungs. They can include:

  • A dry cough (often sounds characteristically like a goose honk)
  • Retching
  • Clear nasal discharge

Most dogs continue to have a good appetite and activity level while battling kennel cough. In more severe cases, though, CIRD can progress to pneumonia. These pets are often lethargic, have a fever, and often have a decreased appetite.

Protecting Your Pet

Kennel cough is tricky. Due to the possibility of many organisms being involved, it can vary widely case to case. Like many diseases, there is an incubation period as well. This means that after exposure it can take up to 10 days for a pet to show signs of illness, making it very possible for a dog boarding with us to appear healthy when he arrives and develop the illness during his stay.

Vaccination is also not fully protective. This is again due to the complex nature of the interaction of different infectious agents. Dogs who are vaccinated, however, typically experience shorter and less severe symptoms.

So what is a doting dog parent to do? Surely you cannot just keep you pup at home forever. Thankfully there are things that you can do in order to keep your pet protected.

Assess immune status — If your pet has a weak immune system, it more like that an encounter with kennel cough will be serious. Call us if you need help determining if it is safe to board pets who are very old, very young, on immunosuppressive drugs, or who are battling illness.

Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate — While we can’t vaccinate against every single bug that can bring on kennel cough, we can hit the major ones. Be sure that your pet is current on vaccinations and has received boosters as recommended. Also keep in mind that vaccinations aren’t immediately protective, especially if it is your pet’s first time receiving them. Plan ahead!

Be vigilant — Perhaps the most important thing that you can do is to be discerning when it comes to your pooch. Be sure to board at a facility such as ours that requires all dogs to be current on vaccinations and is capable of identifying and treating potentially sick residents. Dogs may become infected after nose to nose contact with other pets as well as exposure to things like bowls, toys, and other items contaminated with respiratory secretions. Avoid contact with high risk dogs and don’t share with strangers.

Don’t hesitate — If your pet is showing signs of illness, make an appointment right away so that things don’t get worse. Be responsible and avoid bringing your dog around other dogs until they are no longer contagious (this can be for up to three months!).
Kennel cough is certainly not a fun thing to deal with, but thankfully most pets are able to fight it off without any major issues. Teaming up with our expert team and taking some basic precautions will help keep your dog safe as you head over the river and through the woods this holiday season.