Kennel Cough - Tracheobronchitis

Kennel cough

Q: I have read your FAQ on kennel cough, I have a 9 week old chocolate lab, which we purchased her when she was six and half weeks old, from a well known breeder.When she was about 8 weeks old, she came down with a continuous and persistant coughing and hacking. I've taken her to our vet and he recommended using Robitussin DM , two teaspoon before bed time. It seems to be working, or that she is getting better by herself. We've only given her two or three days of Robtussin. My question is, can a dog get kennel cough again? Like children can catch a cold several times, is it possible for a dog to get it more than once, and if so, what can be do about it? Thank you for your time .



A: There are several causes of coughing associated with tracheobronchitis, all of which get lumped under the general name "kennel cough" at times. So it is possible for a dog to get kennel cough from two or three different causes in one lifetime. In addition to that, the most common cause of tracheobronchitis in dogs is probably Bordetella bronchiseptica infection, a bacterial infection. Immunity to this infection is not long lasting even after having the illness. Immunity probably lasts 6 to 12 months in most dogs and when it wears out they can get the infection again. There are vaccinations for Bordetella. In a high risk situation it might be a good idea to vaccinate twice a year for this infection. In other circumstances using the vaccine once a year may be adequate or even using it only when it appears likely to be necessary, such as prior to boarding a dog at a kennel or participating in an event in which many dogs will be present.

Mike Richards, DVM

Kennel cough treatment

Q: Dr. Mike, My mother, in Spokane, told me that one of her dogs has Kennel Cough. I have been looking through the internet to find some information regarding what type of antibiotic should be used. She has seen some vets, but she feels like they don't know what they are talking about. So if you have any answers for me my mom, and her dog Danny, would greatly appreciate it. Thank You.

A: Ben- Tracheobronchitis, commonly referred to as "kennel cough" is usually caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica. It can also be caused by several viruses. Some vets feel that it is best not to treat this condition with antibiotics since it is almost always self limiting and the organism is a normal inhabitant of the upper airways. Treatment may lead to resistance problems and difficulty treating the most serious complication, pneumonia, if it occurs. So many dogs are very uncomfortable due to the severity of the cough that I think most vets do use antibiotics to treat this. I personally like sulfa/trimethoprim combination antibiotics such as Ditrim (Rx) or Tribrissen (Rx) or doxycycline but I suspect that many antibiotics work well for this condition -- and no antibiotic at all is OK most of the time. Use of a cough suppressant can make the dog a lot more comfortable, whether antibiotics are used or not.

Mike Richards, DVM

Kennel Cough

Q: Can you tell me a bit about kennel cough. Is it a virus or bacterial infection etc.?

A: Kennel cough is most commonly associated with a bacterial infection caused by the organism Bordetella bronchiseptica. While it is hard to be certain in veterinary medicine when discussing statistics, it is estimated that 80 to 90% of the cases of kennel cough are due to this organism. The other 10 to 20% of cases are caused by a variety of other infectious agents, most of them viral. Kennel cough has been associated with parainfluenza virus, adenovirus and canine distemper virus as well as the Bordetella bacteria.

The incubation period from the time a dog is exposed until clinical signs appear varies depending on which infectious agent is the cause. In general it appears to be about 3 to 5 days with Bordetella. The infection tends to be mild except for a very harsh cough that often prompts owners to think that their dog "has something caught in his throat". In some dogs it can lead to pneumonia or more serious signs. Cough suppressants can be used to control the cough and antibiotics may be necessary for stubborn infections or to try to stop the spread of the bacteria in multiple dog households. It is probably a good idea to vaccinate dogs who will be exposed to large numbers of other dogs, such as at shows, obedience classes or the classic cause -- when left in kennels. The intranasal vaccine is pretty fast acting, providing some protection in as little as 5 days. The injectable version of the vaccine may provide longer immunity, though. Some vets use both to get maximum protection. We don't use either one routinely but give the intranasal vaccine to our patients who will be exposed to groups of dogs.

Mike Richards, DVM


Q: My dog was diagnosed as having tracheobronchitis. Could you tell me about it--what causes it and what treatment works best?

A: Tracheobronchitis is also known as "kennel cough". This is probably a misnomer, since most dogs that get this disease have not been in kennels. Still, when dogs are placed in group situations, they are often exposed to the organisms that cause tracheobronchitis. It is sort of like all the colds that are seen in kindergarteners.

There are a number of possible causes of tracheobronchitis but most cases are probably caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica. Other causes are canine distemper virus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus infection and possibly Mycoplasmal organisms.

A dry hacking cough is the most common sign of this disease. Most vets assume that a dog has tracheobronchitis when the owner calls on the phone and says "my dog has a bone caught in his throat". The type of cough really does cause many people to assume that there must be something caught in the dog's throat and many dogs retch at the end of the coughing. In some cases, pneumonia may occur as a complication of this disease.

It is probably OK to treat this condition by simply using medications to control the cough but most owners are more content if antibiotics are used and most vets therefore put the dogs on an antibiotic for seven to ten days. Hydrocodone or butorphenol cough suppressants work best and every vet seems to have a personal favorite antibiotic for this condition.

All of the organisms that cause this disease appear to be pretty contagious so it is not unusual for all the dogs in a household to rapidly become infected.

This will go away. Controlling the cough will make your dog more comfortable and allow you to get some sleep!

Mike Richards, DVM

Tracheobronchitis (kennel cough)

Q: Hi Dr. Mike! In the last week my dog has started coughing every hour. It sounds like he is gagging really bad, and occasionally it's accompanied by some milky, mucousy liquid. This is the first time he's ever had any trouble breathing, and it strikes whenever he gets active. He still seems in good spirits. He'll grab the tennis ball and come over to get me to play, coughing all the while. About a week ago I had him started on Program to control fleas. 3 weeks prior to that I had him checked for heartworms and started on Hartguard. Both times he was given a mitabin dip to control (genetic) mange. He's been shedding a lot (it seems normal amounts though considering it's spring now) of his winter fur. Could he have a hairball? Do you think I should take him to back to the vet? It sounds horrible when he starts coughing. I also changed his food to Thompson's Pasta this week, and that has coincided with these symptoms. He is switched back to his previous brand now. Kennel Cough seems to be what it is from perusing your web site. How long should I wait to see if it clears up? Thanks for any information.

A: The symptoms you are describing do sound like tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) but I am very wary of any unusual symptoms seen in dogs when we are using a medication like amitraz (Mitaban Rx), which has toxic effects at dosages only slightly above the effective dosages. Just to be on the safe side, it would probably be best to ask your vet to re-examine Patch.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...