Ask the Veterinary Services Expert – Megan Herman


For the past month we have been seeing numerous cases of kennel cough in dogs. Kennel cough is an infectious bronchitis, characterized by a loud hacking cough. This cough can be mistaken for having something stuck in the throat and throughout the past month I have received many calls from panicked owners who think that their dog is choking.

Symptoms can range from a mild cough with no other signs, to a very ill patient that has developed pneumonia secondarily. The most common presentation is a patient who is coughing lots but has a normal activity level and appetite with no associated fever. Often affected dogs will cough up large amounts of phlegm and mucous which can be confused with vomiting.

Kennel cough is most commonly caused by a combination of organisms including bacteria and viruses. The main pathogen blamed for causing kennel cough is a bacteria called Bordatella bronchiseptica. This bacteria is rarely found alone and instead is accompanied by one or more of the following; Parainfluenza virus, Adenovirus type 2, Canine distemper virus, Canine influenza virus, Canine herpesvirus and Mycoplasma canis.

Infections are spread through respiratory secretion that are aerosolized and then are inhaled by a healthy dog. Areas with high densities of dogs (shelter or kennel) exasperate infection but it is important to remember that your dog can contract kennel cough any place that there are other dogs and not just at the kennel as the name states. It is also possible that transmission can occur on items such as toys, food bowls, etc… The incubation period (time from being infected to appearing sick) is 2 to 14 days and the duration of illness can last anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks.

Diagnosis is usually made based on clinical signs and history but sometimes other diagnostic testing (mainly radiographs (x-rays)) is required to differentiate from other diseases. Treatment varies depending on the severity of the infection and is determined after examination. The treatment varies from strictly monitoring the patient and isolating them from other animals to cough suppressants and possible antibiotic treatment.

Prevention is the most important factor when dealing with kennel cough. Vaccination is available for many of the components that cause kennel cough. The kennel cough vaccination is often offered as an option at your veterinarian clinic but should be given to all dogs that are going to have contact with other dogs, and NOT just dogs that are going to go to the kennel. It is still possible (but much less likely) for vaccinated dogs to show some signs of kennel cough but the severity and the duration of these signs are much shorter and much less severe when compared to unvaccinated animals.