Diagnosing Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel cough in dogs is an infectious respiratory disease commonly caused by canine bordatella, or Bordetella bronchiseptica. However, kennel cough may also be the result of a combination of infectious agents working together simultaneously. The parainfluenza virus and mycoplasma are two other agents that commonly contribute to canine kennel cough. Canine herpres virus, canine adenovirus 2 and reovirus may also play a role in the disease.

Causes of Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel cough in dogs is a common contagious respiratory infection that affects most dogs at some point during their lives. Kennel cough usually occurs as the result of a number of infectious agents working together.

The most common viral component of the disease is the parainfluenza virus. Unless other pathogens become involved, then symptoms of kennel cough remain mild and last no longer than six days.

The bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica often becomes involved in cases of canine kennel cough. An case of kennel cough caused only by B. bronchiseptica infection may last only ten days. However, if complicated by parainfluenza infection, kennel cough symptoms can last 14 to 20 days. Dogs infected with B. bronchiseptica can spread the bacteria to other dogs for 6 to 14 weeks after they recover from the infection.

Symptoms of Canine Kennel Cough

The most common symptom of kennel cough in dogs is a dry, hacking cough sometimes followed by dry heaving. A thin nasal discharge may accompany the cough.

In mild cases of kennel cough, the dog's eating, sleeping and activity aren't affected. Usually, dogs who contract kennel cough have recently been boarded or otherwise been in contact with other dogs.

Symptoms of kennel cough are most likely to become severe in immunocompromised dogs and young puppies. Severe symptoms of kennel cough include:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Death

Diagnosis and Treatment of Kennel Cough in Dogs

Diagnosis is made based on presentation of symptoms and history of recent exposure to other dogs. Blood work can identify the individual pathogens involved, but usually these sorts of tests aren't needed and they aren't usually done.

If the kennel cough symptoms are mild and the disease hasn't caused complications, antibiotics may be administered to treat the bacterial component. Cough suppressants may be administered as well.

In more severe cases of kennel cough, vets prescribe antibiotics like doxycycline. However, vets won't prescribe steroids or cough suppressants because these drugs could have an immunosuppressant effect and hamper the dog's ability to recover. Bronchodilators may be used to relieve coughing symptoms. Dogs with severe kennel cough symptoms should be observed closely to ensure that they don't develop pneumonia.

Preventing Kennel Cough in Dogs

The best way to protect your dog from kennel cough infection is to never expose him to other dogs, and this should, in fact, be done when the dog is very young. However, as the dog gets older, you may want to consider administering a vaccine instead. The standard five-way and seven-way vaccines protect against most of the infectious agents responsible for kennel cough. A Bordetella vaccine is also available.