Kennel cough, or ‘infectious tracheobronchitis’, is a contagious cough that affects dogs. A bit like the common cold in humans, it’s caused by a number of different bacteria and viruses and is easily spread between dogs. These include canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus and the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica.
The main symptom of kennel cough is a harsh hacking cough - this can be quite alarming af first and can sound a bit like they are choking or have something stuck in their throat. Some dogs may develop a fever or be a bit off colour for a couple of days, but in general for a young healthy dog other than the cough they tend to remain bright.
Kennel cough is spread via aerosol or contaminated material, so if your dog regularly comes into contact with other dogs, then they should be vaccinated. Despite the name, this doesn’t just mean at kennels, dogs can be at risk anywhere where dogs interact whether this be on a dog walk, puppy socialisation class, doggy daycare or at a dog show. It’s very contagious so, particularly in a kennel situation, if one dog gets it, it can quickly spread to the rest of the dogs.
A reputable boarding kennels will usually insist that your dog is vaccinated against kennel cough to prevent the spread of disease, to ensure your dog won’t suffer as a result of catching it, as well as protecting any older or vulnerable dogs boarding too. Some dogs are at higher risk, such as puppies whose immune systems are still developing, and older dogs that may have other underlying conditions, chronic disease or compromised immune systems.
The kennel cough vaccination is given once a year, and lasts for 12 months. It can be given at the same time as their annual vaccinations (e.g for distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis and leptospirosis, depending what’s due that year). In Ireland, the vaccine is given intra-nasally, where a small squirt of liquid is sprayed into the nostril. Ideally dogs should be vaccinated at least 3 weeks prior to boarding or visiting kennels, or other situations where they’ll be in close contact with other dogs.
There may be some situations where the kennel cough vaccination isn’t appropriate and you should discuss this with one of the vets, for example, if your dog is currently taking a course of antibiotics (as this can make the vaccine ineffective), if they are already coughing or have a known respiratory problem. You should also have a chat with us before vaccinating if your dog is on immunosuppressant medicines (e.g. high dose steroids, or ciclosporin), or has previously had a severe reaction to a vaccination.
Just like the human flu vaccination, the kennel cough vaccination protects against the most common pathogens, but there are many strains of infection so it can’t completely guarantee protection. However, vaccinated dogs are at less risk, and if it is contracted they are likely to experience much milder symptoms.
If your dog does contract kennel cough, there are a number of ways you can support them. First of all, be sure to visit us so we can provide appropriate medication and rule out other more serious causes of a cough. Medication often involves anti-inflammatories to soothe the cough. Ensure your dog is kept isolated away from other dogs and is warm and dry. Just like with us humans, bouts of coughing can be brought on by cold air, excitement or exercise, so keep them rested and avoid taking them for a walk until they are better. Even if your dog has had a bought of kennel cough in the past, it’s still a good idea to get them vaccinated, to ensure they develop immunity against the different causative strains.
Need to know more? Give us a ring and talk to one of our vets or vet nurses!