WYou know the sound. That dry hacking cough, followed by an exaggerated attempt to retch or gag. Yep that’s probably kennel cough- one of the most common causes of acute respiratory disease in dogs.

Now don’t be fooled by the name. Only 40% of kennel cough cases are the result of boarding at a kennel or animal shelter. In fact, over 30% of kennel cough cases are due to exposure to local environments, such as dog parks, pet stores, grooming facilities, doggie daycares, and obedience classes. Because of this, kennel cough is now referred to as Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease or CIRD.

What is Kennel Cough?

CIRD is an acute infection involving primarily the upper respiratory tract and can be caused by one or more of several viruses and bacteria. It can be transmitted by dog-to dog contact and via contaminated items such as toys and food/water bowls.

Signs or symptoms may be seen as soon as 2-3 days following exposure to a CIRD pathogen, but can take up to 10 days depending on the pathogen. Although usually mild and self-limiting, signs and symptoms may include sudden episodes of a dry hacking cough, sneezing and drainage from the eyes or nose. In the more severe cases, fever, poor appetite, lethargy and shortness of breath may be seen but are uncommon.

Diagnosing and Treating Kennel Cough

Diagnosing CIRD can usually be made based on history, clinical signs and response to therapy. Although unnecessary in most cases, identification of the pathogen may be required in patients that do not respond to initial treatment.

Treatment of CIRD varies depending on the severity of the patient. Because most cases are very mild, self-limiting and resolve on their own in 10-14 days, antimicrobial treatment is not always required. Cough suppressants are commonly used along with anti-inflammatories. If a bacterial component is suspected, then an antibiotic may be used. Prognosis is very good and most dogs typically recover in about 2 weeks.

Preventing Kennel Cough

Vaccination is the most important component to controlling CIRD. There are several forms of the vaccine, including intra-nasal, oral and subcutaneous. It is also important to understand that vaccines do not exist for many of the pathogens that can cause CIRD.  And just because your dog has been vaccinated doesn’t mean he can’t become infected or transmit the pathogen, although being vaccinated significantly reduces the chances of becoming infected.

Isolating infected dogs from the general population is important in controlling the degree of a possible outbreak. So tell your veterinarian, groomer or doggie daycare if you suspect your dog has CIRD or has been exposed to CIRD. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid taking a possibly infected dog to dog parks, pet stores or any situation that may result in dog to dog contact for a few weeks following exposure.

With Spring Break and summer vacation just around the corner, many of you will be traveling in the coming weeks and months, so make sure your dog is up to date on vaccines prior to boarding. It can take a few days for your pet to reach full immunity.