Kennel Cough in Dogs: How Serious Is It?
Kennel cough (also known as infectious tracheobronchitis) symptoms appear extreme, with a dry, hacking cough accompanied by frequent, intense gagging. Despite its appearance, a typical case of kennel cough is not life-threatening, and it tends to run its course in a few days to a week or so. But it is a disease that is frustrating for pets and caretakers alike.
Kennel cough should be expected whenever your dog suddenly develops the characteristic cough 5 to 10 days after exposure to other dogs – especially to dogs from a kennel (particularly a shelter) environment. Usually the kennel cough symptoms diminish during the first five days, but the disease may persist for up to 10-20 days. Kennel cough is almost always more annoying (to dog and her caretaker) than it is a serious event. In other words, kennel cough is not fatal unless serious complications like pneumonia arise from it.
Anyone who’s heard it will recognize the dry, hacking, something’s-stuck-in-my-throat dog coughing that won’t quit. It’s the signature symptom of canine infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as Bordetellosis, Bordetella, and most commonly as kennel cough. Whatever you call it, tracheobronchitis is one of the world’s most widespread canine diseases.
Like the common cold in humans, tracheobronchitis is highly contagious, rarely fatal, and runs its course in a few days. Fortunately, kennel cough remedies are abundant; there are several ways to help make canine patients more comfortable, speed recovery, and prevent future infections.
Tracheobronchitis is called kennel cough because of its association with boarding kennels, animal shelters, veterinary waiting rooms, grooming salons, and other areas where dogs congregate in close quarters. The coughing can strike dogs of any age but is most common in puppies, whose immune systems are still developing, and adult dogs with conditions that impair immune function.
Although often referred to as Bordetella, tracheobronchitis isn’t caused by the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria alone. Several infectious agents contribute to the condition, primarily parainfluenza. Other viruses that may be involved include canine adenovirus, reovirus, and the canine herpes virus.
When Bordetella and parainfluenza combine to cause tracheobronchitis, kennel cough symptoms appear within a week of exposure (usually after three to four days) and continue for about 10 days. Even after symptoms disappear, the recovering patient remains contagious, shedding Bordetella bacteria for up to 14 weeks.
In mild cases, dogs with kennel cough remain active and alert, with good appetite. In more severe cases, symptoms may progress toward pneumonia and include lethargy, fever, and a loss of appetite.
Kennel Cough Symptoms in Dogs
The main symptom of tracheobronchitis—the cough—has been described as unproductive, throat-clearing, goose-honking, hacking, dry, harsh, gut-wrenching, gagging, wheezing, and croup-like, not to mention annoying to the dogs who can’t stop coughing and the humans they live with. Vigorous exercise triggers it, but even resting dogs may cough every few minutes throughout the day.
The dog’s cough is caused by irritation and damage to the lining of the trachea and upper bronchi. In the trachea, exposed nerve endings are aggravated by the passage of air over damaged tissue as the dog inhales and exhales.
Just as the virus that causes the common cold is carried by water vapor, dust, and air, the bacteria and viruses that cause tracheobronchitis spread in all directions. When inhaled by a susceptible dog, they attach to the lining of upper airway passages whose warm, moist conditions allow them to reproduce and eventually damage the cells they infect.