Kennels Kennel Cough. Full details from the vet first hand

All you need to know about Kennel Cough – Advice from the Vet

Kennel Cough

Well it’s that time of year when we are all thinking about summer holidays.  As a dog owner we have to make decisions – to take our dog with us, or not…

The Vital Pet Health Vets have put this professional document together to advise you about the specifics of Kennel Cough.

Kennel cough or Infectious Canine Tracheobronchitis, is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs which results in a harsh hacking coughing, often severe in nature.  It is most likely to be acquired from areas where dogs congregate in close proximity to each other, boarding kennels, parks, veterinary surgeries, grooming parlours etc.  Infections can be mild and transient or occasionally more severe lasting a number of weeks.

Infectious Agents involved in Kennel Cough

  • Bordatella bronchiseptica
  • Canine parainfluenza virus
  • Canine adenovirus (CAV-1 and CAV-2)
  • Canine herpesvirus
  • Canine reovirus
  • Other viruses (Canine Distemper virus and Influenza virus)

Bordatella bronchiseptica is a bacteria thought to be one of the main agents involved in kennel cough.  The bacteria attach to the cilia (hair like projections) of cells in the respiratory tract and stop them performing their function of clearing debris from the airway.

Canine parainfluenza virus is implicated in the kennel cough syndrome and replicates in cells of the respiratory tract and the lymph nodes (glands).  It can spread to other tissues in dogs that do not have a healthy immune system.  Infection with the virus can occur after contact with infected nasal secretions or via aerosol spread in the air.  The virus on its own can cause a mild cough and occasionally a clear nasal discharge.

Canine adenovirus infections have been associated with bronchitis. CAV-2 is mainly associated with respiratory disease, CAV-1 cause’s disease throughout the body.  The virus can be shed for 9 days post infections although it remains in respiratory tract tissue for a number of weeks.

Canine herpesvirus is thought to be an uncommon component of kennel cough. It is thought to cause fading puppy syndrome in pups less than 2 weeks of age.  In adult dogs it may infect tissues of the respiratory and genital tracts.  Signs are usually limited to clear nasal discharge. Latent infections can occur as with other herpes virus infections.

Canine reovirus is not thought to be a major disease causing agent in kennel cough. It may have some role in lowering the immune system allowing the invasion of other organisms.

Causes of Kennel Cough

The disease usually starts with damage to the respiratory tissues, which then progresses to invasion by other disease causing organisms. The normal respiratory tract is protected by small hairs and a layer of mucus.  This mechanism allows trapping of potentially dangerous organisms in the mucus, the small hairs (cilia) then beat causing the organisms to travel up the respiratory tract where they are coughed and swallowed.

Damage to this mechanism can occur from:

  • Virus infection
  • Poor ventilation
  • Heavy smoke exposure (including cigarette smoke)
  • Cold temperature

Signs of Kennel Cough

Infections can range from a mild cough and clear nasal discharge to severe coughing, gagging and retching.  Severe coughs can end in a retch so owners commonly think their dog has something stuck in the throat.  The cough may be instigated by pressure on the trachea.  Your veterinary surgeon may use this test, termed the “tracheal pinch test”.  If your dog reacts when this test is performed then they are termed tracheal pinch positive.  Enlarged lymph nodes (glands) and pyrexia (fever) may also be a feature as may a discharge from the eye. In summary among the signs that may be seen:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Cough
  • Gagging / retching
  • Tracheal pinch positive
  • Pyrexia (fever)
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (glands)
  • Eye discharge

Treatment of Kennel Cough

Antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment to control bacterial infections.  Antiviral drugs are not available but the majority of signs in kennel cough are related to secondary bacterial infection so treatment aimed at these organisms is usually effective.  Other drugs to clear mucus and dilate the airways are sometimes indicated.  Drugs that prevent coughing are not always suitable since the cough mechanism actually helps clear the airways so it is not advisable to prevent this.

Prevention of Kennel Cough

  • Vaccination
  • Avoid contact with other dogs

Avoiding dog contact is not always practical or desirable so the main method of prevention is vaccination.  Routine vaccinations often include Canine distemper Virus, Canine adenovirus and sometimes Canine parainfluenza virus which have all been cited as possibly responsible for developing kennel cough.  Vaccination against Bordatella bronchiseptica is often done before a dog enters a kennels or in the face of a kennel cough outbreak.


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