Kennel Cough

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We've recently had an increased number of dogs who are coughing at Annandale so we thought we would provide some information on Canine Respiratory Disease, more fondly referred to as Kennel Cough


Kennel cough is an infectious bronchitis of dogs characterized by a harsh, hacking cough that most people describe as sounding like “something stuck in my dog’s throat.” This bronchitis may be of brief duration and mild enough to warrant no treatment at all or it may progress all the way to a life-threatening pneumonia depending on which infectious agents are involved and the immunological strength of the patient. An uncomplicated kennel cough runs a course of a week or two and entails frequent fits of coughing in a patient who otherwise feels active and normal. Uncomplicated cases do not involve fever or listlessness, just lots of coughing.

Numerous organisms may be involved in a case of kennel cough; it would be unusual for only one agent to be involved. Infections with the following organisms frequently occur concurrently to create a case of kennel cough:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (bacteria)
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Adenovirus type 2
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine influenza virus
  • Canine herpesvirus (very young puppies)
  • Mycoplasma canis (a single-cell organism that is neither virus nor bacterium)
  • Canine reovirus
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus.

The classical combination for uncomplicated kennel cough is infection with parainfluenza or adenovirus type 2 in combination with Bordetella bronchiseptica. Infections involving the distemper virus, Mycoplasma species, or canine influenza are more prone to progressing to pneumonia, but pneumonia can readily result in any dog or puppy that is sufficiently young, stressed, or debilitated.


Not sure what a Coughing Dog sounds like?

Dogs can make an assortment of respiratory sounds. Usually a cough is recognizable but it is important to be aware of another sound called a reverse sneeze. The reverse sneeze is often mistaken for a cough, a choking fit, sneezing, retching, or even for some sort of respiratory distress. In fact, the reverse sneeze represents a post-nasal drip or tickle in the throat. It is considered normal especially for small dogs or dogs and only requires attention if it is felt to be excessive. The point here is to know a cough when you see one. A cough can be dry or productive, meaning it is followed by a gag, swallowing motion, production of foamy mucus (not to be confused with vomiting). 



Dogs are typically sick for 1 to 2 weeks. 

Infected dogs shed Bordetella organism for 2 to 3 months following infection.

How is Diagnosis Made?

A coughing dog that has a poor appetite, fever, and/or listlessness should be evaluated for pneumonia.

Usually the history of exposure to a crowd of dogs within the proper time frame, plus typical examination findings (coughing dog that otherwise feels well) is adequate to make the diagnosis. Radiographs show bronchitis and are particularly helpful in determining if there is a complicating pneumonia.


How is Kennel Cough Treated?

An uncomplicated case of kennel cough will go away by itself. Cough suppressants can improve patient comfort while the infection is resolving. The dog should be clearly improved, if not recovered, after about a week. That said, several infectious agents in the kennel cough complex are more intense and can cause a minor bronchitis to progress to pneumonia, which is a potentially life-threatening disease. Given this possibility, antibiotics are frequently prescribed to kennel cough patients to prevent or curtail pneumonia before it warrants hospitalization.

It is important to distinguish an uncomplicated case of kennel cough from one complicated by pneumonia for obvious reasons. The uncomplicated cases will not have fever or appetite loss and they will not be listless. As mentioned, they will seem normal except for coughing. Dogs with pneumonia appear sick.


Vaccination is only available for: Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus, canine distemper, and canine influenza. Infections with other members of the kennel cough complex cannot be prevented. Vaccine against adenovirus type 2, parainfluenza, and canine distemper is generally included in the basic puppy series and subsequent  boosters (the DHPP or  distemper-parvo shot).  For Bordetella bronchiseptica, vaccination can either be given as a separate injection or as a nasal immunization. There is some controversy regarding which method provides a better immunization or if a combination of both formats is best.


What if Kennel Cough doesn't Improve?

As previously noted, this infection is generally self-limiting. It should be at least improved partially after one week of treatment. If no improvement has been observed in this time, a re-check exam (possibly including radiographs of the chest) would be a good idea. Failure of kennel cough to resolve suggests an underlying condition. Kennel cough can activate a previously asymptomatic collapsing trachea or the condition may have progressed to pneumonia. Alternatively, there may be another disease afoot entirely such as non-infectious bronchitis, congestive heart failure, or some other condition that causes coughing.

If you have questions about a coughing dog, do not hesitate to call us here at Annandale on 02 9550 9600

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