Kennel cough or canine cough, is a common highly contagious condition in dogs and is caused by many different agents. Bacteria, viruses as well as environmental factors such as stress, dust and humidity can be involved. This causes inflammation of the larynx or laryngitis. Bordetella is a common bacteria implicated, which in humans can cause Hooping cough (a different strain).
Dogs often present with a sudden hacking cough that can have a goose honking sound. The dog will often retch as the cough is productive and they may bring up a pool of mucous - although often this is not seen as the dog will swallow it. Some owners may confuse retching with vomiting. The coughing tends to be exacerbated with excitement, pulling on the lead, and often seems to be worse at night time. Most dogs seem relatively bright and continue to eat food. They often don’t seem overly worried by the cough and it’s generally more distressing to the owner. The cough generally starts around 3-10 days after exposure. Most dogs will have a history of exposure to other dogs eg a boarding kennel – hence the name. However, it only requires close contact with an infected dog (eg in the park, through a fence), to pick up the disease. Coughing can last for just a few days or may continue for many weeks!
Diagnosis is generally on clinical signs with a hacking cough elicited by palpation over the larynx, and often a history of exposure to other dogs. The dogs are often otherwise bright. Your veterinary surgeon will perform a full clinical examination to rule out other causes of coughing eg heart disease, bronchitis. X-rays and blood tests are usually unnecessary and are not helpful to confirm diagnosis, but may be necessary if your dog is unwell.
Rest and keeping the dog quiet and calm until signs resolve are important. Your vet may use different treatments including antibiotics for any bacteria involved, anti-inflammatories, and anti-cough medications. Human over the counter cough medications have been used, but there is no proof that they help the canine patient. Dogs pulling on their collar during walks may result in increased coughing and as the disease is highly contagious it’s important to isolate dogs at home.
Obviously avoiding high risk situations and close contact with other dogs would be the best prevention – however this is generally not an option and as I said only nose to nose contact with one dog can spread the disease. Vaccination is the best means of protecting your dog but is not 100% as many agents can cause kennel cough. Two different types of vaccination are used, intranasal and injectable. Injectable vaccination requires 2 initial injections one month apart. This course must be completed 2 weeks prior to exposure to a high risk situation eg a boarding kennels. The intranasal vaccination only requires one dose and is effective 4 days after administration. If your dog is likely to be exposed to a high risk situation then it is better for them to be vaccinated within 6 months of that exposure.