Dr. Elizabeth Bradt
---- — Whether you refer to it as “kennel cough” or, more properly, “infectious tracheobronchitis,” many people are unaware of how common this illness really is. In fact, many pet owners often refuse to vaccinate their dogs for this disease. So, how can a bordetella vaccine be helpful even if your pet is never boarded?
It’s a common comment heard in many veterinary hospitals: “We don’t need the kennel cough vaccination; we never board or kennel our dog.” Despite the owner’s insistence that their pet isn’t at risk, most people would be surprised to find out that this disease can be found in a wide variety of places.
Infectious tracheobronchitis, more commonly known as “kennel cough,” is a communicable bronchitis in dogs that is often found anywhere dogs congregate. Naturally, boarding kennels come to mind, but quite often, people will forget that grooming salons, dog parks, pet superstores or even their favorite veterinary hospital can also be potential sources of infection.
Dogs who contract tracheobronchitis will produce a rough, hacking cough that many owners will describe as the pet trying to cough something up or even retch. Spasms or coughing fits are not uncommon, and some people relate that their pets seem worse at night.
Kennel cough can be caused by a wide variety of organisms, including canine adenoviruses, canine distemper virus and a bacterial species that goes by the name of bordetella bronchiseptica. Other viruses, such as canine herpesviruses or reoviruses are also thought to contribute to the disease, and it is not uncommon to see more than one pathogen involved.
Infected dogs will spread viruses or bacteria through airborne particles where healthy dogs can inhale them. In some cases, the germs can also spread via toys or food dishes. Dogs that are exposed will generally show signs of illness within two to 14 days and may act sick for an additional two weeks. In many cases, the disease is very mild, and your pup may never run a fever or act as if anything is wrong. However, this is a disease that can progress to a life-threatening pneumonia called canine infectious respiratory disease.
What’s even worse is that a pet that has recovered from this illness could potentially infect other dogs for up to two or three months! So, that normal=looking dog at the busy city dog park could, in fact, be sharing some nasty germs as he plays with his doggie pals.
Like many diseases we see in pets, proactive prevention is the key to stopping kennel cough. Most dogs will receive vaccinations against canine adenoviruses and parainfluenza when they receive their canine distemper and canine parvovirus vaccines. In addition, bordetella vaccination is available and can help limit the severity of the illness if your pet is ever exposed to this bacterium.
The bordetella vaccine is considered to be a “non-core” vaccine by the American Animal Hospital Association. This means that not all pets need this vaccination, but the choice to vaccinate should be based on the pet’s risk factors. As mentioned above, if your pet is routinely groomed, enjoys trips to the local dog park or even gets to go shopping with you at the big-box pet-food store, he is likely being exposed to the agents that cause kennel cough.
Vaccination against the bordetella bacterium will generally provide immunity for six months to one year. So, pets at risk will need annual boosters, and some pets who board frequently or visit grooming salons regularly will benefit from re-vaccination every six months. Experts also recommend getting your pet a booster vaccination five days or more prior to possible exposure if more than six months have passed since the last vaccination.
If your pet is dealing with any sort of cough, the best advice on treatment will come from your veterinarian. Although antibiotics may or may not be prescribed, your pet could receive a cough suppressant or even a recommendation to let the dog stand in the bathroom while you shower! Just like with kids, the warm, humid air in the bathroom can loosen congestion and help your pet to breathe more easily.
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem. Email your pet questions to email@example.com. Please title your email “Vet Connection.”