What is Kennel Cough?

By:  Dr. Hilary Slaven

If your dog goes regularly to a groomer or to a boarding kennel, you are probably required to get your furry friend vaccinated for “Kennel Cough” before bringing him into the facility.

What a pain the buns, right??  What’s the fuss about??

Kennel cough is a respiratory infection (involving the windpipe and the lungs) that is highly contagious.  That means that it is quickly spread from one animal to the next through the air, much like cold and flu viruses are spread.

In fact, it can be spread from dogs to humans, especially in people with compromised immune systems.

The infection most typically settles in the trachea (windpipe) and causes irritation and swelling that leads to a deep, honking cough and a change in the sound of the dog’s bark.  It can cause fever, eye and nose drainage, and loss of appetite and energy too.

So you’re starting to see why we care about this disease.

The disease itself is caused by a bacteria (Bordetella bronchoseptica), which settles into the respiratory tract and gets in the way of normal mechanisms that defend against other bacteria.  For example, there are tiny hairs called ‘cilia’ that line the trachea.  Their job is to push unwanted germs up and out of the airway.  If these defenses aren’t working well, unwanted bacteria start camping out along the tracheal lining.  Now we have a Bordetella infection AND a secondary infection, too.

This could potentially lead to a lung infection (pneumonia) in more serious cases.  Typically this would be a young or debilitated dog.

The thing is that this disease in a healthy dog normally involves 1-2 weeks of coughing that goes away with time and/or an antibiotic.  On occasion, it gets more complex than this.

The real take-away message is that break-outs of this disease can be overwhelmingly minimized with good vaccination protocols.  Meaning that your favorite groomer will probably ask you to please have your furry friend vaccinated at the veterinarian before coming over for his pedicure.

And that the cost and effort of a kennel cough vaccine may well be worth your time and money.