As the name suggests, kennel cough causes a nasty honking cough in dogs. The disease is renowned for being highly contagious. The common name “kennel cough” reflects the rapid spread of this disease among dogs housed together, such as when they are kept in boarding kennels or rescue shelters. So should we be doing more to control the disease?

Although the disease is commonly known as “kennel cough”, it is more correctly called canine infectious bronchitis. The signs of canine infectious bronchitis can be caused by several different viruses and bacteria. Common infectious agents which are known to cause this infection are the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica and the parainfluenza virus, which often act together to cause signs of the illness. Other pathogens which may cause the signs of kennel cough include adenovovirus, canine respiratory coronavirus and mycoplasmas. 

What are the signs of kennel cough? 

Aside from the honking cough, which is often accompanied by retching, an affected dog may be lethargic and off their food. Other signs may include discharge from the nose, runny eyes and sneezing. The dog may be a little feverish and seem generally unwell. Vomiting can occur after a particularly severe episode of coughing and retching. Dogs with kennel cough often have a highly sensitive trachea. Any slight pressure caused by their collar on this area can set off a bout of coughing or retching. 

How serious is kennel cough? 

Dogs with kennel cough generally make a good recovery. However the cough can last for weeks and can be disturbing for the humans in the family as well as the dog; especially at night when the people of the household are trying to sleep, ready for work or school the next day. The initial disease can also become much worse if secondary infections take hold. Secondary infections can lead to much more severe disease especially in older animals or immunocompromised dogs. 

Should vaccination against kennel cough be offered by vets as standard? 

Vaccination against some of the infectious agents responsible for kennel cough are readily available. The vaccine helps to prevent infection with parainfluenza virus and the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica which are commonly associated with the signs of kennel cough. Some kennel cough vaccinations may be given by injection. Or more commonly, intranasally (with the vaccine being dripped into your dog’s nostrils). 

Some dogs find the intranasal vaccination slightly unpleasant and they may sneeze or cough a little following the procedure. However, this route is believed to give better immunity. Although kennel cough can be distressing, the vaccination is not considered to be one of the core vaccinations which should always be given. Your vet will generally make the recommendation about whether your dog should receive the kennel cough vaccine or not; depending on your pet’s individual risk. 

How will my vet decide whether or not my dog needs the kennel cough vaccine? 

Your vet will initially consider your dog’s lifestyle and regular activities. Does your canine companion need to go into kennels, either for a holiday or just for doggy daycare? If your dog does attend a boarding kennel, the kennel cough vaccination is usually a requirement of the boarding kennel establishment. Your vet will generally advise that your pet needs the kennel cough vaccination in order to be admitted. 

Do you take your dog to events where large groups of dogs will gather together such as shows or competitions? 

This will make them at higher risk of contracting kennel cough since these events often involve large numbers of dogs travelling from other areas to attend. 

If your dog does not spend any significant time with groups of other dogs or go into kennels they may still be at risk of kennel cough if it is prevalent in the area. 

Any dog may contract kennel cough if they come into contact with another dog which is infected with the disease. This can easily happen at places such as puppy classes, obedience classes, doggy daycare or group dog walks. In these situations dogs will come into close contact with each other, (for example licking or sniffing each other’s faces) and can also breathe in airborne droplets carrying infectious agents. 

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Dogs do not always have to be in direct contact with an infected individual to contract kennel cough.

This is because kennel cough can be transmitted on contaminated surfaces. In a kennel or shelter environment this may mean the disease is transmitted on feeding bowls or other equipment. Out in the open, the disease can be present on pavements or the grass. Your local veterinary practice will know if kennel cough is prevalent in your area and be able to make a judgement on the risk for your dog contracting kennel cough even if they do not attend kennels or other activities which may otherwise put them at risk. 

Your vet will consider your dog’s general health before deciding whether to give the kennel cough vaccination. 

Would they be at particularly high risk if they caught kennel cough? Are there any health conditions (such as a previous reaction to the vaccination) which mean your pet should not receive the kennel cough vaccine? 

Finally your vet will consider the people in the family; since kennel cough vaccination may not be advisable if there are immunocompromised individuals at home who may be in contact with your dog following the vaccination. 

As you can see, the decision to give the kennel cough vaccination is based on many individual factors. Your vet will not necessarily always recommend it. If you have any concerns about your own dog’s risk for contracting kennel cough, speak to your vet who will be able to help you further and make an individual recommendation for your pet.

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