Kennel Cough (Bordatella)

'Kennel Cough' is the term that was commonly applied to the most prevalent upper respiratory problem in
dogs in the United States. Recently, the condition has become known as tracheobronchitis, canine infectious
tracheobronchitis or Bordetella. It is highly contagious in dogs. The disease is found worldwide and will infect
a very high percentage of dogs in their lifetime.

Clinical signs of infections occur 2-14 days after exposure, symptoms will last around 10 days. However,
after the infection has been resolved, the affected animal will continue to be contagious for 6 to 14 weeks and
can spread the disease to other susceptible animals during that time. Parainfluenza and Bordetella most
commonly appear together in infectious tracheobronchitis, creating a disease that normally lasts from 14-20


The most common symptom is a dry hacking cough sometimes followed by retching. Many owners describe
the cough as having a 'honking sound.' A watery nasal discharge may also be present. With mild cases, dogs
continue to eat and be alert and active. Many times, there is a recent history of boarding or coming in contact
with other dogs. In more severe cases, the symptoms may progress and include lethargy, fever, loss of
appetite, pneumonia, and in very severe cases, even death. The majority of severe cases occur in animals
with compromised immune systems, or young un-vaccinated puppies.


Diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms and a history of recent exposure to other dogs. Bacterial
cultures, viral isolation, and blood work can be performed to verify individual agents of the disease, but due
to the characteristic nature of the symptoms, these tests are not routinely performed.


There are two treatment options depending on the severity of the disease. In the most common mild form of
the disease, antibiotics may or may not be used. Treating the mild case does not shorten the length in which
the animal will be a potential spreader of the disease. In addition, cough suppressants may also be used in
treatment of mild cases.

In more severe cases where the animal is not eating, running a fever, or showing signs of pneumonia,
antibiotics are often used. In moderate or severe cases, veterinary care should be instituted, as the resultant
pneumonia could become life threatening if not treated properly and promptly.

Because pressure on the throat and trachea can make coughing worse, it is recommended that dogs with a
cough should wear a head collar or harness instead of a regular neck collar.

Vaccination and prevention

The best prevention is to not expose your dog to other dogs, especially young puppies. If this cannot be
avoided, then proper vaccination is the next best option. Chances are that if your dog is regularly vaccinated
with a standard 5-way or 7-way vaccine, he is already being protected against several of the agents causing
'kennel cough'. However, these vaccines alone rarely provide protection against contracting the disease,
although they will help reduce the severity of the disease if the animal becomes infected.

There is an injectable Bordatella vaccine, and one that is given intranasally (squirted into the nostrils). Neither
vaccine will totally prevent infection with Bordatella. For the injectable vaccine, 2 doses must be given 3-4
weeks apart, and protection does not occur until 1-2 weeks after the second injection.


'Kennel Cough,' now more commonly referred to as 'infectious tracheobronchitis' is a widespread disease
caused by several different viruses and bacteria. It is usually a self-limiting disease and most animals do not
require treatment. Vaccines are effective, but due to some possible side effects are only recommended for
animals that are at higher risk. Infectious tracheobronchitis is a disease of dogs, it does not appear to be a
risk to healthy humans.
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Perry Animal Clinic