Kennel Cough

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What is it?

Kennel Cough is a highly contagious condition that easily spreads from dog to dog. As the name suggests, it causes a cough, but in severe cases may also lead to pneumonia.

What causes it?

There are a number of different viruses and bacteria that can cause kennel cough. These include Parainfluenza Virus, Canine Adenovirus 2 and the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica (first cousin to the human disease, Whooping Cough, which it closely resembles). Whatever the cause, however, the condition is very similar, with inflammation of the larynx (voicebox) and trachea (windpipe) and sometimes the lung tissue (bronchi) as well - as a result it is also sometimes called Infectious Tracheobronchitis.

What dogs are at risk?

All dogs are at risk from this highly infectious disease, although vaccinated dogs are less likely to contract it. The infectious agents are carried by dogs, foxes, and even cats and may be transmitted indirectly (e.g. on grass or even clothing that has been exposed).

What are the symptoms?

The classic symptom is a "honking" cough, that is triggered or worsened when the throat is rubbed or stroked. There may also be a mild fever, loss of appetite and lethargy, specially in the early stages; and occasionally a runny or snotty nose. Untreated, the condition will usually self-resolve in 2-3 weeks, but occasionally it can cause more serious effects, such as pneumonia. In this case, the fever will rise, and the dog will become increasingly lethargic. The cough will become moister, and they may struggle to breathe.

How is it diagnosed?

Clinical examination is usually sufficient - a cough that can be induced by gently feeling the larynx is pretty much diagnostic! There are also ways to test for the individual agents, typically by taking a swab from the back of the throat and sending it off to a specialist laboratory.

How can it be treated or managed?

As it is usually self limiting, treatment usually involves rest, quarantine from other dogs (to minimise the risk of spreading it!) and anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce the fever and make them more comfortable. If there is a risk of more severe infection, or an unusually high risk of spreading the infection, antibiotics may be used to kill bacteria and especially the Bordetella. Dogs with pneumonia, however, require intensive care nursing and antibiotics; and may need to be hospitalised and put on a drip of intravenous fluids and medication.

Can it be prevented?

Canine Adenovirus is quite rare, because the "routine" vaccination most dogs gets protects against it (the reason is that the closely related CAV-1 causes Infectious Canine Hepatitis, and vaccinating against one protects against both). There are vaccines against Parainfluenza - the injectable is less effective, however, than the combined Parainfluenza and Bordetella vaccine which is given up the nose. This vaccine reduces the chance that a dog will become infected, but, if they do contract Kennel Cough, it will be less severe and they will spread it less than an unvaccinated dog.