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June 2010 Kennel Cough
With boarding time around the corner...
-Christopher Weisner, DVM, Emergency, Trauma Department
Kennel cough is an infection affecting the upper airways, usually the trachea. It may be caused by several different types of virus or bacteria. Some dogs are vaccinated for a potential viral component of the disease with the DAPP (distemper) vaccine and for a potential bacterial component with the bordetella vaccine (kennel cough vaccine). There is no vaccine or combination of vaccines that will prevent infection involving all of the potential pathogens. Vaccines help minimize the severity of infection, but do not always completely prevent infection. Vaccines are not fully effective until 7 – 10 days after vaccination. Vaccines start to loose efficacy after a period of time. For example, the intra nasal bordetella vaccine starts to lose efficacy six months after innoculation. Give the vaccines two weeks before the pet is boarded.
One of the hallmark signs of kennel cough is a harsh cough. Other signs that may be noted include sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, lethargy, inappetance, and fever. Since kennel cough is often caused by a virus, antibiotics are not always used. Antibiotics often are not used unless there is an indication that there is a bacterial infection. Signs of a bacterial infection may include greenish nasal or ocular discharge, fever, lethargy, and inappetance. A bacterial upper respiratory infection can progress into pneumonia. Pneumonia is diagnosed with radiographs. Treatment for a purely viral infection is supportive while the virus runs it course. It is similar to treatment for a cold in people.
Supportive care includes humidification therapy, anti tussive agents, and minimizing activities that result in cough. Humidification therapy can be supplied by steaming up a bathroom and placing your pet in the room for 10 minutes, three times daily. Cough suppressants are often narcotics and can be sedating. They are used to minimize cough; they are not used to eradicate the cough completely. They should be used as needed so that your pet is comfortable. Certain activities such as vigorous exercise, excessive barking, and leash walks can exacerbate a cough. These activities should be minimized. Kennel cough usually lasts from 7 – 14 days.
Kennel cough is an infectious disease. The incubation period is 5- 10 days. If your dog has been diagnosed with kennel cough, he or she should be kept away from other dogs. Change clothing and wash hands after being with your pet if you are going to interact with other dogs.
There are other reasons for a dog to cough aside from kennel cough. If your pet has a persistent cough, especially if he or she is lethargic or inappetant, your pet should be examined by a veterinarian. Radiographs may be indicated to search for pneumonia. Most dogs with kennel cough do not require hospitalization.