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Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough: Signs, Causes, Treatments and Prevention

Kennel Cough is known as infectious tracheobronchitis (ITB). The condition is associated with the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica. The answer to the question “What is kennel cough?” is that kennel cough is a multifactorial respiratory disease. 

Kennel cough symptoms include coughing, sneezing, nasolacrimal discharge, fever, and lethargy. 

The signs of kennel cough easily spread between susceptible dogs sharing a space or household. Kennel cough progresses into a canine infectious respiratory disease of canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRD). 

CIRD is caused by infection with canine parainfluenza, canine adenovirus type 2, and canine herpesvirus type 1 in conjunction with or preceding Bordetella bronchiseptica

The treatment for kennel cough is a combination of antibiotics, antitussives, and supportive therapy, depending on the severity of the condition.

What is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough, or ITB, is an infectious respiratory disease in dogs. The disease is associated with the bacterium Bordetella bronchispetica, which inhabits the canine upper respiratory tract. 

Respiratory problems in dogs occur when other viral infections such as canine parainfluenza, canine adenovirus type 2, and canine herpesvirus type 1 occur in conjunction with B. bronchiseptica, causing canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD). 

Kennel cough is a dry, hacking cough followed by a terminal retch. The cough is a contagious disease that spreads quickly to unvaccinated dogs sharing the same space or area. 

How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

Dogs get kennel cough through an oronasal mode of transmission. Exposure through direct contact with respiratory secretion, inhalation of aerosolized secretions, and environmental fomites like in dog bowls, bedding, and carriers are common ways kennel cough is transmitted between dogs. 

Kennel cough is easily transmitted to young and immunologically immature animals if they are unvaccinated. Core vaccination protocols protect dogs from contagious viral respiratory diseases and Bordetella bronchiseptica. Dogs without vaccination and with prior exposure are most susceptible to kennel cough.

What are the Causes of Kennel Cough?

The causes of kennel cough are listed below.

  • Canine Adenovirus Type 2 (CAV-2): CAV-2 is a virus from the Adenoviridae family. The virus is related to adenovirus type 1, which causes hepatitis in dogs. CAV-2 causes tracheobronchitis by entering the dog’s respiratory tract through the inhalation of aerosolized respiratory secretions. 
  • Canine Herpesvirus Type 1 (CHV-1): CHV1 is a virus from the family Herpesviridae. The virus has been isolated in dogs with canine infectious respiratory disease as a contributor to tracheobronchitis. The disease causes mild-severe upper respiratory signs and damages the reproductive system. 
  • Canine Mycoplasmosis: Mycoplasmas are bacteria of the class Mollicutes. Mycoplasma cynos has been identified in dogs with chronic infectious respiratory disease, though the exact role in pathogenesis is still being researched. 
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica: B. bronchiseptica is a commensal organism found in the upper respiratory tract of healthy dogs. The bacterium is recognized as a secondary pathogen that complicates otherwise mild and self-limiting viral infections. 
  • Canine Parainfluenza (CPIV): CPIV is a virus from the Paramyxoviridae family. The disease is the commonly recognized viral pathogen related to chronic infectious respiratory disease in dogs. The virus spreads rapidly through nasal secretions from the respiratory tract of infected animals, especially closely housed animals. 

Can Humans Get Kennel Cough?

Yes, humans can get kennel cough. Bordetella bronchiseptica has a zoonotic risk, although it is rare and is associated with sick and immunocompromised patients. 

A 2023 case study shows that a human developed bronchitis and malaise a few weeks after their dog was given intranasal B. bronchiseptica vaccination. The study noted “vaccine-strain Bordetella bronchiseptica infection in a 43-year-old woman who was taking immunosuppressive medication,” according to Kraai et al., in a case study entitled Zoonotic Transmission of Vaccine-Derived Bordetella bronchiseptica, 2023. 

Various case studies report that B. bronchiseptica has been isolated from humans with pre-existing conditions such as lung cancer and immunodeficiency viruses. 

Are there Vaccines for Dogs against Kennel Cough?

Yes, there are vaccines for dogs against kennel cough. Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccines are available in injectable, intranasal, and oral forms. Canine B. bronchiseptica vaccination starts at 3-8 weeks in age and is given as a single dose or in two doses. 

The core vaccinations for dogs include immunization for CDV (Canine Distemper Virus), CAV (Canine Adenovirus), and CPV (and Canine Parvovirus) at 6 to 8 weeks of age. Vaccination occurs every 2 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. 

Vaccination for canine influenza begins at 6 weeks of age. Proper vaccination decreases the likelihood of dogs contracting canine infectious respiratory disease. 

What are the Kennel Cough Symptoms?

The kennel cough symptoms are listed below.

  • Coughing: The common signs of kennel cough include a characteristic “whooping cough.” The cough is  a hacking, dry cough that ends with a terminal retching sound. It  lasts several days and affects other dogs in the population. Coughing is able to be elicited through gentle palpation of the trachea. 
  • Sneezing: Kennel cough affects the upper respiratory ciliostasis. The cilia are tiny hairs that line the upper respiratory tract and help trap and move dust and debris along the nasal tract. The ciliostasis allows for increased contact between the nasal epithelium and harmful inhaled microbes and pathogens. 
  • Nasolacrimal discharge: Respiratory infections trigger the body's immunologic responses. The immune system allows for a cascade of inflammatory changes that increase mucus production in the nose and eyes. Increased mucus production is a mechanism that aims to clear the nasal cavity of microbes and harmful pathogens.
  • Fever: Respiratory infections induce fever in affected animals. The rise in body temperature is a physiological response to immune system activation. High temperature is the body's way of eliminating viral or bacterial replication. 
  • Lethargy: Respiratory infections are painful and uncomfortable conditions. Persistent coughing interferes with daily activity and mood and causes breathing difficulties. Dogs with subsequent fever exhibit inappetence, decreased energy levels, and increased depression as the disease progresses. 

What are Kennel Cough Treatments?

Kennel cough treatments are listed below.

  • Antibiotics: A veterinarian prescribes antibiotics as part of how to treat kennel cough in dogs. Doxycycline, trimethoprim-sulfa, co-amoxiclav, and minocycline are effective against Bordatella. The medication helps decrease the likelihood of secondary infection while the disease is ongoing. 
  • Antitussives: Antitussive medications reduce the frequency of coughing episodes. They inhibit coughing via central or peripheral neurological signals. Hydrocodone or butorphanol are commonly used antitussive drugs for dogs.
    • Antihistamines: Antihistamines are an optional treatment for coughing. The medication provides a soothing effect that helps decrease the intensity of coughing. 
    • Immunostimulants: Kennel cough and other causative agents of canine infectious respiratory disease are often self-limiting. Immunostimulation occurs by giving additional medication to strengthen immunity and fight off the infection faster. Common immunostimulants are beta-glucans and inositol. 
    • Oxygen therapy: Dogs that experience pulmonary distress due to kennel cough need supplemental oxygen therapy. Affected dogs with developed pneumonia require inpatient care and monitoring. 

    How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?

    Kennel cough lasts about 1-3 weeks, depending on the severity. Kennel cough has a propensity for immunologically immature dogs. The result is a longer recovery period and an increased susceptibility to secondary infection. Non-complicated Bordetella infection resolves within 3-7 days but sheds up to 3 weeks after resolution of the cough. Viruses, such as Canine Herpesvirus type 1,  shed for 10 days from prior infection. 

    Does Kennel Cough only Transmit through the Nose?

    Yes, kennel cough only transmits through the nose. Kennel cough transmits through the oronasal route through inhalation of respiratory secretions. Fomites are a possible route of transmission since respiratory droplets are able to contaminate surfaces. 

    The disease spreads rapidly among dogs housed in shared spaces such as kennels and shelters due to the nose anatomy in dogs and circulating aerosolized respiratory droplets. 

    Can Kennel Cough Go Away Without Treatment?

    Yes, kennel cough can go away without treatment. Non-complicated kennel cough infections are self-limiting and disappear over time. Dogs with healthy and mature immune system function are able to self-heal, although not as efficiently as when there is active treatment. 

    Dogs with multifactorial canine infectious respiratory disease need treatment, as the disease usually has more severe clinical signs. Medication is necessary to prevent hypoxia, severe coughing, and pneumonia. 

    Is Kennel Cough Fatal for Dogs?

    Yes, kennel cough is fatal for dogs. Dogs with non-complicated kennel cough infections have a good prognosis following prompt treatment and management. 

    Canines with long-term infection with secondary viral or fungal involvement develop a severe life-threatening disease. Canine infectious respiratory disease results in lower airway involvement that eventually leads to pneumonia and lung compromise. Dogs with poor immune system function have a worse prognosis. 

    What is the Difference between Kennel Cough and Pneumonia in Dogs?

    The difference between kennel cough and pneumonia in dogs is that kennel cough is a disease, while pneumonia is considered a clinical sign. 

    Pneumonia is inflammation and fluid buildup inside the lungs due to bacterial, viral, or fungal causes. It occurs due to damage caused by an underlying disease that is not always kennel cough. Kennel cough is only one of the respiratory diseases that leads to canine pneumonia

    How can CBD Oil Relieve Your Dog from Kennel Cough?

    CBD oil can relieve your dog from kennel cough by activating the dog's endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS influences metabolism, stress, memory, pain control, and inflammatory and immune responses. Dog CBD oil helps reduce inflammatory cytokine production, relieving persistent coughing and improving mood. Consult a veterinarian to properly use CBD oil for dogs with kennel cough.