How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

Microscopic Bordetella Virus

Don’t let the name fool you, kennel cough isn’t the only place your dog can catch kennel cough. Where there are dogs, there is kennel cough. Taking a trip to the dog park, the groomers, or even your friendly veterinarian? The canine kennel cough virus is there. With the dreaded kennel cough virus lurking around every corner, dog owners are asking themselves—just how do dogs get kennel cough?  

What is Kennel Cough?

The medical term for canine kennel cough is Infectious Canine Tracheobronchitis. Kennel cough is also known as Bordetella, due to the bacterium which most commonly causes this infection called Bordetella bronchiseptica.

No matter what name it is given, kennel cough infects nearly every canine at least once in a lifetime. Kennel cough is similar to that of bronchitis in humans, as the bacteria infects the lungs, bronchioles, larynx (windpipe) and windpipe of an infected dog.

In some instances, Kennel cough can be caused or trigger secondary infections such as canine adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and mycoplasma. Any one of these organisms can cause the symptoms of this disease, alone or in combination. Infections with multiple organisms tend to cause the most severe symptoms.

How Do Dogs get Kennel Cough?

Canine kennel cough is an airborne virus, meaning it is passed from one dog to another through the air. Dogs can catch the virus by breathing the same air with an infected dog in a confined space, touching noses and even sharing water or food bowls. Similar to how we can catch a cold by sharing the same space as a sick person, touch their hands or share cups the infected person has drank from.

Dogs that are confined together in close proximity, such as those in dog shelters or boarding kennels, are more likely to contract the virus, hence the name “kennel cough.” However, dogs that have never been to a kennel facility can contract the virus due to an inadequate amount of mucus in the respiratory tract. Mucus is the flypaper of the body, trapping bacteria and debris before it can enter the body. If the nose, mouth, throat and lungs have very little mucus covering them, the kennel cough virus can pass right on through.

Factors that can cause a dog to lose his protective mucus include:

  •        Travel induced stress.
  •        Cigarette smoke
  •        Dust
  •        Poor ventilation

What Are The Symptoms of Kennel Cough?

As you might have guessed from infectious canine tracheobronchitis’s common name, the most prevalent symptom of kennel cough is a harsh cough. The cough is dry and honky, similar to the sound of a goose honk. The cough is usually consistent, lasting for several minutes at a time. Other dogs suffer from a cough during their daily activities, walking or even lying down. The cough is the most uncomfortable aspect of this infection.

In a healthy adult dog, a cough, nasal drip and watery eyes may be the only symptoms present with no change in behavior or appetite. Infant or senior dogs, however, may become lethargic, lose appetite and become anorexic, develop pneumonia or even die from a kennel cough infection.

Puppy with Kennel Cough

How Is Kennel Cough Treated?

Kennel cough is extremely contagious. If you suspect your dog might have contracted the virus, isolate him away from your other pets and contact your veterinarian. In most cases, kennel cough can be treated at the comfort of your own home, but medications, such as antibiotics that target Bordetella bacteria, can make for a speedy recovery. Dog owners can aid in their dog’s recovery by administering all prescribed medications on time, monitor eating and drinking routine, adding a humidifier to the space in which your dog occupies and removing all air pollutants.

The majority of dogs with kennel cough recover within three weeks, but dogs of older ages may require an additional three weeks to make a full recovery. Infant dogs or dogs which do not show improvement may be required to stay within the veterinary hospital in order to undergo fluid therapy and a watchful eye of the veterinary team. Always follow up with your veterinarian after your dog has had kennel cough to ensure your pooch is truly rid of the virus.  

How Do I Prevent A Kennel Cough Infection?

The most effective way you can prevent your dog from getting a kennel cough infection is by having him vaccinated. The kennel cough vaccine, more widely known as the Bordetella vaccination, can be given as early as nine weeks of age. Once your dog has received the first shot, your veterinarian will schedule a yearly booster shot to help protect your dog. The kennel cough vaccine can also be given through the nose in the form of a nasal mist or by mouth.  

Canine kennel cough is as common and just as contagious as the common cold we all know so well. Knowing just how dogs get kennel cough is the best way you can prevent your dog from becoming infected. Routine vaccinations are a great way to protect your dog against the kennel cough virus, but the vaccine will not fight an active infection. Once your dog is infected, it is up to you and the veterinary team to move your four-legged friend to a full recovery. Lucky for you, learning about kennel cough is the first step to ensuring your dog will live a healthy and happy life.


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