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Kennel Cough - What you need to know

Dalmation puppy at the vet
puppy at the vet

If you live in Northern Virginia, you might remember that last year almost all the local kennels and day care centers suffered major outbreaks of kennel cough. Most had to close for several weeks at a time. As we are nearing fall and another cold and flu season, we thought it would be useful to talk a little about kennel cough and how we can prevent and treat it when it comes around!

Kennel cough is one of the most common respiratory infections that affect dogs. It is a highly contagious cough that spreads quickly in places where many dogs are in close contact, such as dog kennels, animal shelters, and grooming salons. Even dogs that have received all their vaccinations can contract kennel cough. There are many strains of kennel cough and the vaccination only covers a few of them. This blog is aimed at educating pet owners on what kennel cough is, its signs and symptoms, vaccination requirements, and treatment options. So read on to learn what you need to know about kennel cough.

What is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a respiratory infection. The bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica is one of the primary causes of kennel cough. While it can occur at any time of the year, it is more prevalent during the fall and winter months. Dogs contract the disease by inhaling airborne particles when an infected dog coughs or sneezes. Symptoms of kennel cough include a dry, hacking cough, gagging, and retching. In some cases, the infection can cause a nasal discharge or mild fever.

Dogs typically contract kennel cough in environments where large numbers of dogs gather, such as in dog parks, kennels, pet shops, animal shelters, and grooming salons. These places present a high exposure risk due to the close proximity of the animals and the high turnover of dogs. Even casual contact between dogs during a walk or at a dog show could lead to transmission. Furthermore, it's worth noting that environmental stressors like cold temperatures, poorly ventilated conditions, and exposure to dust or cigarette smoke can increase a dog's susceptibility to the disease.

Vaccination is the best prevention we have at the moment.

Vaccination is just one part in preventing kennel cough. It is highly recommended that all dogs be given the Bordetella vaccine to prevent the dogs from contracting kennel cough. There are many different viruses and bacteria that can cause kennel cough, so vaccination does not always guarantee immunity. However, it can minimize the severity of the infection by promoting faster healing. It is advisable to contact your local veterinarian to discuss the Bordetella vaccine and for recommendations on the optimal vaccination schedule.

However, just as with humans, a healthy diet and regular exercise increase immune health, which helps combat kennel cough as well as other ailments.

Most Common Kennel Cough Symptoms

  • Persistent, intense cough, often accompanied by a “hacking” sound

  • Sneezing

  • Runny nose

  • Eye discharge

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Labored breathing

  • Fever

Treatment Options

Fortunately, kennel cough is easily treatable, and most dogs recover on their own. However, if your dog is suffering from kennel cough, it is essential to take precautions to ensure your dog's safety. Isolate the dog from other pets and seek professional help, because keeping the dog's condition from worsening is very critical. Veterinarians usually prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and cough suppressants. It is vital to ensure that your pet stays hydrated since coughing and retching can cause dehydration.

Home Care

While seeking treatment, owners can help their dog by making necessary changes to their habits. Keep your dog's living spaces clean, reduce the amount of exercise done with the dog, and avoid exposing the dog to extreme cold or heat. You can administer cough-suppressing cough medicines (ask your vet what is appropriate brand and for the dose), encourage the dog to rest, and keep your pup hydrated. Implementing all these measures at home can help treat kennel cough and promote faster healing.

Can my dog take walks when she has kennel cough?

When your dog has kennel cough, it's best to limit physical activity, as excessive exercise can exacerbate the cough. However, mild exercise like short, gentle walks can be beneficial. These walks should be in quiet areas to avoid contact with other dogs, as kennel cough is highly contagious. It's also vital to keep your dog on a leash to control their pace and prevent them from becoming overly excited or strained, which could worsen their condition. Always consult with your vet about the appropriate level of exercise for your dog during this time.

Wrapping it all up

Remember, early detection is key! Kennel cough is a condition that can spread quickly. Adhering to vaccination schedules, a healthy diet, maintain good hygiene for pets and their surroundings, and making sure your dog boards at a facility with good kennel practices are all part of minimizing the spread of kennel cough. If you suspect your pet has kennel cough contact a veterinarian early-on.

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