Hack, Hack, Honk, Choke!

It’s that time of year again! The not so sweet sound of Kennel Cough in the air! Most dog owners are all too familiar with the sound – if it’s not happened to you, you at least know someone who has a dog who has had it.  

So, what is Kennel Cough exactly? Its formal name is Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis and the infection causes the windpipe and voice box to become inflamed. You can think of it sort of as in the terms of a bad cold virus in humans only in dog form.  While it can sound horrible, the good news is in many cases it is not a serious condition and some dogs will recover without treatment. It is, however, just like the human cold virus, highly contagious and can pass quickly from one dog to another especially in crowded places like dog parks or boarding kennels.  Young dogs, old dogs and immune suppressed dogs are most at risk. These dogs are also the ones who are more likely to have more severe complications when they do contract the virus – which could lead to pneumonia. In severe cases like these, treatment with antibiotics will be required.

Fortunately, Kennel Cough is not contagious to other animal species or humans. The bad news is that because it is so contagious to dogs and so easily spread, it is possible for humans to carry the virus on their hands or clothing and transmit it to another dog.  So, if you suspect you have been exposed to the virus make sure to wash your hands and clothing before touching another dog.

What do you do when you wake up one morning to that hack, hack, honk, choke sound?  You tried so hard to take all the precautions during this outbreak– you kept away from the dog parks, avoided doggy daycare and you even made sure to get your dog’s yearly Bordetella vaccine. So how did this happen to you?! Well, first thing is not to beat yourself up about it. Sometimes you can do all the right things and still have your precious best friend come down with a case of it.  Kennel Cough can take not only viral forms it can also take bacterial forms. It can live for long periods well after an infected dog has sniffed or coughed on the floor before you came along. The Bordetella vaccine, while still the best defence, only covers about 3 strains, so depending on which strain is active this season it may not prevent your dog from catching it. Good news is, in most cases, getting the Bordetella vaccine will help lessen the severity of the symptoms if your dog does contract it.  For that reason alone, it’s definitely well worth getting every year at your annual vet visit.

The average incubation period after being exposed to Kennel Cough is usually 5-7 days from contact but can also be as short as 2 days or even as long as 10 days before symptoms show up.  Your dog can continue to be contagious to other dogs anywhere from 7-10 days from when he starts coughing – so to be safe, it is typically recommended to isolate your dog from other dogs for 14 days. Completely limiting exposure to other dogs is probably the number one most important thing to do if you suspect your dog of having Kennel Cough.  It’s also probably one of the hardest parts of going through this – no walks and no play dates for 14 whole days can really stockpile those energy stores. You’ll have to be creative keeping your dog engaged and exercised in his own backyard.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough can include a harsh dry cough, retching, runny nose, sneezing, snorting, gagging or vomiting.  Symptoms can be brought on by even light pressing of the trachea – it is recommended to not use a collar during these two weeks and instead use a harness when putting your dog on a leash for this reason. Ensure you transfer their ID tags!  Excitement or exercise, like when in play, can also bring on these episodes. In some cases, a presence of fever may occur but will vary from case to case.

So when should you seek Veterinary help?  While some dogs will recover from Kennel Cough on their own, there are cases where the symptoms become more severe and the cough becomes disruptive to normal activity as well as sleep cycles.  Visiting your veterinarian may allow for cough medications to be prescribed which may help alleviate these coughing episodes thus bringing relief to your dog and allowing for a good night’s sleep for everyone in the house.  In some cases, especially in the young, old and the immune-suppressed dogs, pneumonia can develop. It is especially important to monitor your dog closely if they are one of these groups so you can seek medical care quickly. If you notice your dog is losing their appetite, not drinking water, having a decreased activity level and/or their cough is worsening, it is definitely a good idea to seek medical care so your veterinarian can determine if it is a case where antibiotics may be required.

To recap, while getting the Bordetella Vaccine every year is still an excellent way to help protect your dog it is not a 100% guarantee of immunity so you will still need to be vigilant during Kennel cough season and avoid high-risk areas and activities during the outbreaks; such as dog parks and daycares.  If you suspect your dog has been infected with Kennel Cough make sure to quarantine them from all other dogs during the contagious period for 14 days. Monitor them closely and if symptoms seem to increase to the point where it is disrupting their normal activities seek medical help with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Thankfully the cooler weather is on its way and with it hopefully, a reduce in Kennel Cough – for a little while anyway.    

Written By: Barbara Duggan-Smith, VA



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