Kennel cough is the common name for a group of canine infectious respiratory diseases affecting the lungs and/or airways and causing a combination of clinical signs. The cause of the infection can be either a virus or a bacterium, or a combination of both. Common viruses include the canine influenza, herpes, adeno, distemper and coronavirus (completely different from the human coronavirus!), the most common bacterium is Bordatella bronchiseptica.

Clinical signs differ slightly depending on the cause, but generally include coughing, which can be quite severe and last for a few weeks. Other possible symptoms include a runny nose and eyes, poor appetite and general tiredness. In some cases, vomiting and diarrhoea can also be present. Just as for people with a common cold, most infections will clear on their own, and if the infectious agent is a virus, antibiotics will not be helpful in clearing the infection. There is no specific treatment for kennel cough, and most will recover without medication. Sometimes, however, dogs will develop more severe secondary infections and need urgent veterinary care including antibiotics and intravenous fluids. If your dog has only mild symptoms, let your dog rest at home, make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water and tempting food, avoid using a neck collar as that might start a coughing spell and pay close attention to your dog’s breathing – if it is at all laboured or fast contact your vet. Most dogs recover in a week or so, although a cough might linger a while longer. Avoid contact with other dogs for several weeks after infection. Contact your vet if your dog has trouble breathing, is not drinking for over a day or eating for more than two days or refuses to get up and walk around the room.

Kennel cough is spread from dog to dog via direct contact, so places with many other dogs such as kennels, animal shelters and dog parks are potentially more dangerous. Your dog’s vaccination status, age and stress levels will contribute to the possibility of infection. Kennel cough can be highly contagious between dogs, but it will not infect people. There are vaccines to prevent some, but not all of the possible infectious causes. Some, like the distemper and parainfluenza virus, are already covered in your dog’s core vaccinations, but others are optional and usually only given if the dog is regularly exposed to many other dogs.


Article by Dr. Laura Wessman

KSPCA Volunteer

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