Kennel cough is in fact very common and rarely serious. It is essentially the same as the common cold in humans. The reason that people have traditionally been worried by kennel cough is because it is highly contagious, again like the human cold. As such dogs that are kept in close contact can rapidly spread the disease to one another, for example those staying in kennels. Living in a city means however, that our dogs come into daily contact with many more dogs than their country cousins. Consequently it is much more likely that a dog living in the city is going to pick up kennel cough at least once in their life.
So, what exactly is kennel cough?
- Canine parainfluenzavirus
- Canine adenovirus
- Bordetella bronchiseptica
These bugs get into the dog's body and irritate the dogs throat which leads to the tell tale coughing. Kennel cough is easily identified by a harsh, hacking cough which sounds like your dog has something stuck in his throat. Most dogs are not really unwell when they have the disease although occasionally they have a high temperature and are a bit 'out of sorts' for a day or two. The cough tends to get worse for a few days and then gradually goes away.What should I do?
Kennel cough is what is known as a self limiting disease. This means that it tends to resolve itself within a few days, again much like the human cold. There is NO treatment that will cure your dog of kennel cough - basically they have to fight off the infection themselves.
Very rarely, if the infection spreads to the chest and threatens to become pneumonia, or if your dog is unwell in himself or has a weak immune system, your vet may prescribe some antibiotics. However, these will NOT stop the coughing more quickly, NOR will they stop your dog from being contagious. Instead your vet will probably recommend that you give your dog cough linctus, you can safely give your dog human baby cough linctus which can be bought from any chemists. However do make sure that the linctus is for tickly coughs, not productive coughs. It is very important that you do not give your dog a medicine with ibuprofen or guaifenesin in it as these are dangerous.
What else can you do to help?
Just as in people with a cold, coughing is brought on by exercise, excitement and exposure to cold air. If your dog has kennel cough you should keep them in a warm environment (where possible) and try not to exercise them too much.
Avoid situations where your dog is likely to bark, as this is highly likely to cause coughing. If your dog normally wears a collar, take this off, to stop it irritating his throat, and exercise him outside with a harness or halter and lead.
Remember that other dogs are at risk of catching the cough from your dog, however by the time your dog starts coughing he is past his most contagious. Do not let your dog cough over other dogs, keep him on a lead when exercising him, and try and prevent him from sharing balls and other toys until his cough has gone.
How can I prevent kennel cough?
There are several vaccines available which can help protect your dog against the different viruses and bacteria that can cause kennel cough. Many of these vaccines are given as drops into the nose, although some are available as injections too.
Although these vaccines MAY help protect your dog against certain viruses and bacteria it is important to understand that they do not guarantee your dog won't get kennel cough. Much like the flu jab for humans, kennel cough vaccines will most likely just lessen the severity of a bout of kennel cough which your dog might get. There is such a wide and ever changing variety of bugs that cause kennel cough that it is impossible to find one vaccine that protects against them all.
Many kennels require you to vaccinate your dog against kennel cough before their stay, however as mentioned above this is no guarantee against your dog contracting kennel cough. Vaccination to protect against Bordetella bronchiseptica (one of the causes of kennel cough) is usually only carried in 'at risk' individuals - often just prior to entry to boarding kennels. The immunity produced by this vaccine does not last long and revaccination is required as often as every 6 months to maintain protection.