My brief stint in the doggie daycare biz really called attention to the importance of canine vaccinations, especially with roughly 20 dogs in the room at any given time. In most boarding facilities (I sincerely hope) the kennel cough vaccine is absolutely required. No vaccine? No stay. That’s just the way it is, and it’s done for a good reason.
Not sure exactly what kennel cough is? Think your dog might have it? You’d be surprised how many times pet parents mistake otherwise ordinary coughing or hacking for kennel cough–to make it simple, just ask yourself these 7 questions:
1. What IS kennel cough?
Kennel cough is an infection brought about by either a virus or bacteria that causes the windpipe and voice box to become inflamed. Like bronchitis, it’s similar to a really bad chest cold in humans. Transmission of kennel cough is all too common in animal shelters and boarding and kenneling facilities, and is very easily “caught” by other dogs.
This is why it’s SO important to vaccinate if you ever want your dog to be around other dogs, like in a vet’s office, obedience class, or groomer’s. Even just sharing the water fountain and saying hello at the dog park will do the trick.
2. Who is at risk?
Just like in humans, young puppies, older dogs, and dogs with compromised immune systems are more likely to contract kennel cough. Unfortunately, it is more apt among these groups to progress into full-blown pneumonia.
P.S. Got an average, adult dog? If he’s unvaccinated, he’s a prime candidate.
3. How can my dog get it?
Bordatella bronchiseptica is the bacteria that transmits the infection, though it is also spread by way of viruses like canine parainfluenza (also a highly-contagious respiratory virus), and adenovirus type 2, which is related to canine infectious hepatitis.
Kennel cough is spread through the air, so the actual coughing spreads it around quite well. Poor circulation in enclosed buildings is also a major culprit, though your dog need only be near another infected dog or come in contact with an object or surface containing the bacteria to contract the disease.
4. How do I know if it’s really kennel cough?
The characteristic “goose honk” is a fool-proof way to identify kennel cough, as a dog’s normal habits like eating and playing are typically not affected. The dog may also gag or retch and spit up a white, foamy substance at the end of a coughing episode. These symptoms are “often worse after exercise, or if [the dog is] excited or pulls against her collar.”
In severe cases, the cough may be accompanied by a fever and/or nasal discharge.
5. How is it treated?
If you suspect your dog has kennel cough, it’s always wise to see a vet. Mild cases, which occur most often, won’t require prescribed antibiotics and should resolve on their own. However, serious cases that interfere with your dog’s normal activities (like eating, sleeping, or playing) may require hospitalization and nebulization of fluids.
If your dog’s doc sends him home with no antibiotics to let the infection run its course, the ASPCA suggests a few things you can do to make your pup feel a bit better:
a. Consider running a humidifier to make the air less dry or let your dog join you in the bathroom during a shower. The warm, moist air will provide some relief for their irritated airways.
b. If it wasn’t already NOT okay, don’t smoke anywhere near your dog. The harmful fumes won’t help anything.
c. Ask your vet about a cough suppressant–he or she may be able to prescribe you one or advise the correct dosage of over-the-counter Robitussin, which is identical to the drugs vets use in-office.
d. Swap out your dog’s collar for a harness to eliminate stress on the windpipe if they pull on a leash.
e. Be observant and supportive: monitor your pal’s eating and drinking habits, and try to keep your home as stress-free as possible.
6. How long does it last?
Mild symptoms normally last no longer than 6 days, according to Pet Education, unless the Bordatella bacteria is involved, which is typically the case. Symptoms can occur at least one week after exposure, and “if uncomplicated with other agents” will last around 14-20 days.
Please note, even after the symptoms disappear, the dog is still contagious up to 14 weeks later.
7. How can I prevent my dog from getting kennel cough?
For one, get him vaccinated! The vaccine can be administered as an injection or an intranasal spray, and your vet will usually offer one or the other. Both are effective, though neither is a 100% preventative measure. The only way to completely avoid the bacteria is to stay away from other dogs, and that’s no good, now is it?
If you plan on boarding your dog at a daycare or kennel, ask for a tour of the facility to check out the cleanliness of the area where your dog will be staying. Ask what they use to clean the kennels and ensure it both disinfects and is safe for pets, and ensure the building has proper ventilation. I would recommend never kenneling your dog in a place that doesn’t require the kennel cough vaccine.