Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel Cough in Dogs

A Fila Brasileiro showing signs of kennel cough.

Is your dog coughing regularly and is listless? Then you should think about kennel cough for dogs (infectious tracheobronchitis). The following article tells you what this disease is about and how you can protect your dog from it.

How dangerous is kennel cough for dogs?

The prognosis of kennel cough (infectious tracheobronchitis) depends on which pathogens are involved with the disease and to what extent your dog is debilitated by environmental factors. However, symptoms improve within a few weeks in most cases.

If your dog is already debilitated by other underlying diseases, it can develop severe complications (e.g. pneumonia) and can die from the consequences.

If your dog overcomes kennel cough, it can unfortunately get sick with it again as it doesn't develop long-term immunity.

Symptoms: What are the signs of kennel cough in dogs?

Kennel cough is usually mild or latent. This means that the pathogens hide in the organism for a long time and don't cause any signs of illness (symptoms) in the meantime. Nevertheless, your four-legged friend is highly contagious to other dogs during this latency period.

The timespan from infection to appearance of the first symptoms (incubation period) takes around three to ten days depending on the pathogen spectrum. The hallmarks of infectious tracheobronchitis are severe cold symptoms – including a sudden dry cough.

Many also describe this as a barking cough. It occurs under stress, but spontaneously too. Sick dogs cough particularly often if their collar is pressing on their larynx. You may also observe a choking cough in your pet.

Your dog can show further symptoms depending on which pathogens are involved in the disease. These include:

  • A diminished general condition and fever
  • With bacterial pathogens: Inflamed tonsils (tonsillitis), larynx, trachea and lungs with usually purulent nasal discharge
  • With the canine herpesvirus (CaHV 1): Symptoms similar to a gastrointestinal disease, such as vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Diagnosis: How is kennel cough in dogs detected?

If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from kennel cough, you should see your vet immediately. After the vet has interviewed you and given your dog a general examination, they will then carry out a special examination of the trachea.

Here the vet pays attention to possible indications of kennel cough, such as nasal or ocular discharge or coughing. They will listen to the windpipe and lungs with the help of a stethoscope.
In order to detect an acute viral and bacterial infection, the vet takes a sample from the throat and nose with a sterile swab. The laboratory then detects pathogens using a direct detection method via cultivation or polymerase chain reaction (PCR test).

The laboratory also needs a blood sample in order to identify a latent infection. This examines the presence of antibodies (protective proteins).

Treatment: How is kennel cough in dogs treated?

Your vet administers antibiotics (e.g. Doxycycline) in order to fight the bacteria involved. However, they will start with a resistance test (antibiogram) before administration so that no dangerous resistances develop.

Along with targeted antibiotic treatment, the vet also treats your dog symptomatically. In addition, they prescribe your dog anti-cough medication and fever reducer. An eye ointment helps if your dog has eye discharge.

During the entire duration of treatment, the vet regularly checks your dog's internal body temperature. This is important to assess the success of the treatment.

You should also eliminate deficiencies in housing and hygiene to relieve the immune system. In addition, you should steer clear of dog sport or events. This way, you avoid infecting other dogs and prevent stress.

Sick Dog

Causes: What are the triggers of kennel cough in dogs?

Specialists also refer to kennel cough, triggered by different viruses and bacteria, as an infectious tracheobronchitis complex or dog flu.

This respiratory disease affects dogs, wolves, foxes and badgers worldwide. Animals that are already debilitated (e.g. puppies, senior or sick dogs) are particularly severely affected.

What are the pathogens?

Canine parainfluenza virus (CpiV 2) and the bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium is the main pathogen for kennel cough. However, other pathogens can too be involved with the disease:

Viral pathogens include:

  • Canine parainfluenza virus (CPiV 2),
  • Influenza A virus,
  • Canine adenovirus 2 (CAdV 2),
  • Canine herpesvirus 1 (CaHV 1),
  • Reoviruses
  • Canine morbillivirus (CDV)
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus (CrCoV).

Bacterial pathogens include:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Rarely: Mycoplasma, klebsiella, pseudomonads

Transmission: How do dogs catch kennel cough?

If your dog picks up viruses via a droplet infection or through contact with contaminated objects (e.g. dog toys or water bowl), they reach the mucous membranes of its upper respiratory tract, where they multiply locally, especially in the lymph nodes.

The pathogens enter the bloodstream via the lymph and reach numerous organs within a very short time. Once there they damage the tissue and increase the risk of bacterial secondary infections, which in turn worsens the disease progression.

Infectious tracheobronchitis is a multifactorial disease

This respiratory disease is called kennel cough with good reason, because it typically occurs in group settings (e.g. in kennels, animal shelters, animal clinics or dog exhibitions).

So an infection alone doesn't lead to an outbreak of kennel cough, since other factors play a role too. For instance, these include physical factors such as temperature or humidity. Insufficient hygiene or severe stress – such as during a long journey – increase the risk of disease further.

Prevention: How to protect your dog

Since kennel cough is a multifactorial disease, there are several prevention stages. Be sure to improve housing deficiencies and stress factors.

Regularly clean and disinfect your dog's feeding spot and toys and avoid high humidity and cold.

You can also get your dog vaccinated against infectious tracheobronchitis. There are two different vaccines available for this:

  • Canine parainfluenza virus + Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Canines parainfluenza virus + Canine adenovirus 2 + canine morbillivirus

In order to develop sufficient immunity, the vet gives your dog the first injection from eight weeks. Further injections follow after four weeks as well as every two years.

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