The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Kennel Cough in Dogs and Cats

By Dr. Jacqueline Brister

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis in dogs, is a contagious respiratory tract infection of dogs and occasionally cats. The infection in dogs can be caused by numerous organisms such as bacteria (Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma species) and/or viruses (canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus). In cats, Bordetella bronchiseptica is the main organism which causes this illness. The illness is spread most commonly in boarding facilities or kennels, or areas where high populations of dogs or cats live in close contact with each other, such as animal shelters. It can take up to 10 days for an exposed pet to become ill.

Kennel Cough Symptoms

Symptoms in dogs can include a “goose honk” cough that comes on suddenly, as well as “hacking” which may result in the dog spitting up phlegm or mucus. Other symptoms may include sneezing, decreased activity level, and decreased appetite. In cats, symptoms can include sneezing and runny eyes or nose. These symptoms are not necessarily specific to kennel cough and may be a sign of a more serious disease such as pneumonia. A trip to the vet is often in order to determine the cause of the symptoms. He or she may provide medications to prevent the symptoms from worsening and help alleviate some of the discomfort your pet is experiencing.

Kennel Cough Treatment

While kennel cough is usually not life-threatening, the symptoms can last for up to 8 weeks. The symptoms may be quite distressing for pets and owners- imagine coughing or sneezing for 2 months straight! Depending on the symptoms, antibiotics to treat the bacterial component of kennel cough may be prescribed. Medications to minimize the cough or other respiratory symptoms such as steroids or cough suppressants may also be administered. At home, make sure your pet has plenty of access to water to help prevent dehydration. Try to minimize his or her activity level to allow the body adequate time to heal. Call your veterinarian if you feel the symptoms are getting worse, or if after treatment, you feel the symptoms have not improved.

Kennel Cough Prevention

Vaccines are available to help prevent most of the organisms that cause kennel cough. Some vaccines are given as an injection and some are given as a drop that goes in the nose or mouth. The vaccines may not provide full protection from these organisms, but they will minimize the severity of illness if your pet does contract kennel cough. Other ways to prevent kennel cough are to avoid other pets that have been coughing or sneezing, and to minimize contact with dogs or cats that have recently been boarded. If you suspect your pet has contracted kennel cough, call your veterinarian to schedule a checkup as soon as you can.

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