Last week, my girlfriend brought our puppy to her regular puppy play class. She anxiously nosed at the gate, anticipating the fun she was about to have with all of her puppy pals. But then, seemingly out of no where, our puppy Pickle let out a hoarse cough. Immediately, the instructor picked her up and told us we needed to leave. There was no way that a puppy with a cough was going to be allowed to interact with the other pups.
Later that night, as my girlfriend recounted the story to me, I immediately thought the worst. Kennel cough is a common (and potentially serious) illness that effects puppies. However, it is also highly contagious and though the initial illness is not fatal, the symptoms that arise from the puppy being ill could pose health issues.
My background as a boarding kennel assistant had me nervous that we were facing a real serious problem. Not helping matters was the fact that only 48 hours before I had learned that Pickle was treated for kennel cough when she first arrived from Georgia. That night we were on the phone and setting up vet appointments, and the next afternoon, Pickle was getting her physical exam and I was nervously answering health questions (typical first time doctor visit as a parent).
Fast forward 45 minutes, and the vet gave me some reassurance that he didn’t think Pickle had kennel cough. She had some mucus build up in her lungs, but she hadn’t coughed in nearly 12 hours at this point, and that was a good sign. As a precaution he prescribed antibiotics and advised us to isolate Pickle from other dogs (considering we would’ve done that anyway, it was no big shock).
A week later, Pickle has had no sign of a cough and has responded well to the antibiotics (which even cleared up some pesky eye boogers). But the whole experience made me realize how little I (and potentially you as a reader) actually know about kennel cough. So, here’s the skinny:
What is Kennel Cough?*
Kennel cough is the more general term to describe Bordetella, or canine tracheobronchitis. Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness that leads to inflammation of the trachea and bronchi. Kennel cough usually affects a high percentage of dogs at least one in their lifetime.
Symptoms usually show as heavy, hoarse coughing, dry hacking, and retching. Serious cases could result in a loss of appetite and loss of energy. Puppies, elderly and pregnant dogs are usually at a higher risk due to their compromised immune systems. In severe cases, symptoms progress and can include pneumonia, fever, and even death.
Kennel cough was a term coined to describe the illness due to the frequency of transmission is boarding and shelter facilities. Close proximity of dogs and dirty conditions of unkept shelters or kennels can lead to the fast spread of the illness. But Bordetella can live in water and can be transmitted through shared water dishes, or even simply through physical contact between an infected dog and another dog. Due to its high level of contagiousness, infected dogs are isolated until they can recover.
Kennel cough is diagnosed by a vet, and is conducted based on the symptoms of your dog. Blood tests and urinalysis are run and conclusions are made by the vet.
What do I do if my dog gets Bordetella?
Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms. If your dog is not showing signs of lethargy, fever or loss of appetite, the illness may be allowed to run its course, much like a human cold. However, if the symptoms prove to be severe, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories will be prescribed. Stay in contact with your vet and be aware of symptoms in case they don’t subside.
Prevention is also possible. The easiest thing is to avoid places where there are high concentrations of dogs. Honestly, though, that’s like teaching abstinence to high schoolers pumped up on hormones. It’s not realistic.
Even if you have never boarded your dog in a kennel, dogs can get kennel cough from shared water sources (think water bowls outside your favorite Starbucks). Interactions with strange dogs on the sidewalk also poses a threat, so avoidance is not realistic.
The best course of action is to seek out a vaccination from your vet. Although not 100% guaranteed, vaccinations would protect your dog from all the real world issues they will inevitably face.
In the end, kennel cough is a potentially serious, yet easily treatable illness in dogs. Though very common and highly contagious, only dogs experiencing severe symptoms (lethargy, fever, etc) face any real threat. Luckily for Pickle the illness has subsided, and luckily for us, kennel cough isn’t contagious to humans. So, despite being sick, there was no interruption in our snuggle time!
* Pet MD, Kennel Cough in Dogs, http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/respiratory/c_dg_canine_tracheobronchitis