How much do you really know about kennel cough?
You may have heard it referred to as Bordetella, since Bordetella bronchiseptica is one of the most common causes of kennel cough. You may have been told your dog is required to have been vaccinated against it before going to doggy daycare or even the groomer. But would you know if your dog got it? Do you really need to go to the vet if they start coughing? What is the treatment like? What causes it, and does the vaccine even work?
Here are 7 things every dog parent should know about kennel cough.
#1 – It has many different causes
Like the common cold in humans, kennel cough can be caused by a variety of different viruses and bacteria, and is frequently the result of more than one pathogen attacking the body at the same time. Kennel cough is caused by a dog inhaling bacteria or viruses into their upper respiratory tract, especially if the lungs are already overworked by cold air, cigarette smoke, stress, or crowded quarters with poor ventilation. The upper respiratory tract is usually lined with mucus, which helps to trap particles that might cause infections, which is why kennel cough is often caused by multiple pathogens – one weakens the mucus in the lungs, allowing the other to take root and cause an infection.
#2 – It’s highly contagious
As infected dogs cough, the virus or bacteria gets spread around the environment where other dogs inhale the pathogen and become sick. Airborne pathogens like this are much more difficult to control than diseases where dogs need to have direct contact with each other in order to pass contagious diseases, since one dog only has to sniff an area where an infected dog had been to contract kennel cough.
#3 – The primary symptom is a cough that sounds like a goose honk
Kennel cough produces a very distinctive-sounding cough that often sounds like a goose honk. Coughing sounds that lack this sound may be symptoms of reverse sneezing or another medical condition instead.
Reverse sneezing is a series of quickly inhaled breaths, usually seen in smaller dogs, that tends to be the result of post-nasal drip. Some dogs will only experience coughing with kennel cough, and others may experience other symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, or eye discharge. Severe symptoms may include retching, lethargy, and fever.
#4 – Vaccines can reduce the odds of getting it or reduce symptoms
While the vaccine is not 100% effective, it can greatly reduce the odds of your dog contracting the illness if he is frequently in conditions that tend to spread the disease, such as doggy daycare. Even if your dog does catch kennel cough, the symptoms will likely be less than if your dog hadn’t been vaccinated. The vaccine is available in oral, intranasal, and injected forms.
#5 – It can progress to pneumonia or even death
It’s mistakenly believed by some that kennel cough is a minor malady that doesn’t require a trip to the vet. While kennel cough can be a relatively minor problem, it can progress to pneumonia or death, especially in dogs that already have weakened immune systems. It’s better to be safe than sorry and take your dog to the vet at the first symptoms of kennel cough, rather than waiting until it has progressed to something worse. Plus, why make your pup suffer with all that coughing?
#6 – Treatments vary based on the severity of the symptoms
While mild kennel cough may only require rest and a cough suppressant, severe kennel cough may require antibiotics or supportive care. Only your vet can determine what kind of treatment your dog requires for kennel cough.
#7 – Coughing may indicate something worse than kennel cough
It may be tempting to attribute any coughing to a mild form of kennel cough, but coughing can be a symptom of some major health issues, such as a collapsing trachea, canine distemper, canine influenza, bronchitis, asthma, or even heart disease. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and take your dog to the vet any time they have a cough rather than assume it’s no big deal.