Written by Libby Holdman, DVM
When the holidays come around and travel season heats up, “kennel cough” becomes a four-letter word in the dog world. We all know that dogs who are boarded can catch it, but what really IS kennel cough?
It turns out that this is a much more complicated question than you would think at first glance. Kennel cough is not just one disease, but a blanket term for a variety of bacterial and viral infections that often occur together. These infections cause the characteristic “barking” cough that is notorious with kennel cough. Dogs may be infected with one type of bacteria or with a multitude of bacteria and viruses – all contribute to inflammation in the trachea and bronchi (lower airways) and lead to coughing.
Fortunately, in most pets kennel cough signs are mild. A dry cough that occurs primarily with excitement, exercise, or pulling on the collar is typically noted. In very young, very old, or immune compromised dogs, however, kennel cough can progress to pneumonia.
Kennel cough typically resolves on its own within 2 weeks if untreated. However, treatment with an antibiotic is typically recommended to speed recovery and decrease shedding of the infectious agents. During this time, dogs are quite contagious and so should not be around any other dogs.
The kennel cough vaccine is effective and safe. There are a few different versions of the vaccine; some are given as a squirt up the nose, while others are your typical injections. The vaccines are effective for 6-12 months, depending on the type. It is important to know that a vaccinated dog can still get kennel cough – the vaccine simply decreases the likelihood of contracting the disease and decreases the severity of disease.
In short, kennel cough is generally a mild disease. However, given the fact that it is highly contagious and potentially dangerous to certain populations of dogs, vaccination is recommended if your pet will be around other dogs in a kennel or daycare situation. If you are concerned about symptoms your dog may be showing, schedule an appointment with your regular veterinarian.