Kennel Cough is a broad term that we use to describe a contagious upper airway infection in dogs who have been exposed to other dogs in grooming, boarding, shelter, and other social situations. The term ‘kennel cough’ is misleading, as there are various causes of the disease, including bacteria and viruses. In veterinary medicine, we use the terms Infectious Tracheobronchitis (ITB) and Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRD).
How it’s spread: CIRD is highly contagious. It is spread rapidly through the air in close quarters and from nose to nose contact between dogs.
Clinical Signs: The first sign of kennel cough is a dry, hacking/ honking cough. Occasionally this is followed by a gag and may be accompanied by clear mucus. Other signs to monitor for include discharge from the nose or eyes, decreased activity, difficulty breathing, and poor appetite.
*Some dogs can be latent carriers. Latent carriers show no signs of illness, but can spread the disease.
Diagnosis: Your dog should be seen by your veterinarian if they develop any of these signs. ITB is often diagnosed based on clinical signs, history, and examination. Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend radiographs (x-ray) or nose/throat swabs.
Treatment: Often times, mild cases do not need to be treated and the cough will resolve in several days. If the cough is not resolving, supportive care like cough suppressants, rest, and ensuring adequate hydration and nutrition is needed. Antibiotics are sometimes needed. Rarely, CIRD can progress to pneumonia requiring hospitalization.
Prevention: There are several vaccines available, but there is not a vaccine for all components involved in CIRD. Common vaccines are DA2PP (Distemper, Adenovirus, and Parainfluenza), Bordetella (aka Kennel Cough vaccine), and Influenza (Canine Flu).
Risk to people and other animals: There is evidence that some of the CIRD components can be a risk towards people who are immunocompromised. You should consult your doctor with any concerns. The components of CIRD are a low risk to cats.
What to do if your dog has been exposed: If your pet has recently (7-14 days) been in a facility with an outbreak of CIRD, it is recommended that you keep your pet quarantined from other dogs for 14 days, even if they are not showing signs (remember, they can be latent carriers). Monitor your pet for the clinical signs above, and contact your vet with any concerns.