What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

Canine infectious tracheobronchitis, Bordetella or Bordetellosis commonly known as kennel cough is a highly contagious disease. Kennel cough is the most prevalent upper respiratory infection in dogs as a very high percentage of our four legged friends are affected. Kennel cough was coined because dog owners associate the transmission of the disease to being kenneled or boarded. However, the causative agents of this highly contagious disease can attack dogs that were never kenneled.

Kennel cough can be caused by many infectious agents the most common of which are Bordetello bronchiseptica, canine parainfluenza 3 and canine adenovirus type 2. The disease can also be caused by mycoplasma, an organism that is neither bacteria nor virus. Any one of bacteria, viruses or mycoplasma can cause the disease although commonly the dog’s respiratory problem will be caused by the combination of one or two of these organisms. Once the bacteria Bordetello bronchiseptica enters the dog’s body, it will reproduce rapidly and weaken the dog’s immune system. Symptoms of the disease will be shown 2 to 14 days after the dog was exposed to the infectious agents. If the bacterial infection is not complicated with other infectious agents, the infection should be resolved in about 10 days. The viruses that cause kennel cough are parainfluenza and adenovirus type 2. These viral agents will cause mild symptoms that are not unlike human’s common cold. Symptoms usually last for about a week unless bacterial agents are involved.

Although highly contagious, kennel cough is usually not a serious condition. This upper respiratory condition though would be very irritating to the dog. Dry hacking cough is the typical symptom of this disease. The dog’s coughing would sound like the honking of geese. The dry unproductive coughing would be followed by retching as if the dog is trying to remove a blockage on the throat. The dog may be able to hack up phlegm although in most cases the incessant coughing will only produce white foamy liquid. Because the nasal mucus membranes are affected, the dog can have a watery nasal discharge. Aside from the persistent coughing, the dog will be its usual active self. Strenuous exertion though triggers a spate of coughing. It will be noticed that the coughing gets worse after the dog had been running or playing. It would be very hard to confine a dog accustomed to being active but limiting the dog’s strenuous activities will be necessary at least while the hacking cough persists. This upper respiratory disease would have no effect on the voracious appetite of the dog. But because of an irritated throat, the coughing can result to vomiting especially if the pet had been eating or drinking too fast.

Generally, kennel cough would only last for a week or two. However, there are cases when the condition of the dog worsens. The causative agents of this upper respiratory tract infection would have more severe effects on immunosppressed and/or unvaccinated dogs. Severely infected dog would have a fever, be lethargic and may turn away from food. The “simple” kennel cough can progress to pneumonia that can result to the death of the dog if no treatment is immediately administered. In most cases, kennel cough is caused by viral infection thus antibiotics may not be the right treatment option. Dogs with mild cases of kennel cough are given bronchodilators and cough suppressants. Antibiotics are given if the condition of the pet worsens and symptoms of pneumonia are being shown.

It would be difficult to prevent the pet from being exposed to infectious agents that are airborne. The best protection a dog owner can give to the pet is vaccination. Vaccination is not a surefire preventive measure as vaccinated dogs can still get infected but the shots would at least lessen the severity of the infection.

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