Infectious tracheobronchitis or Kennel Cough is a common contagious disease of dogs. Historically it has been thought to be caused by a bacteria, Bordatella bronchiseptica, but in reality it is a disease complex with several different viruses, bacteria and environmental stress factors merging to create the disease. Kennel Cough is usually associated with recent exposure to other dogs. Thus boarding kennels, grooming parlors, and dog parks are good places to catch it. Recently I have seen a lot of kennel cough from many different origins and in some cases in dogs with no obvious exposure. These cases seem to be more severe and of longer duration. In some cases they progressed to outright bronchopneumonia that required aggressive treatment to resolve. The disease is spread by aerosol droplets and contamination of inanimate objects. People can spread the disease on their hands, if for example they pet a dog who has it and then proceed to pet another dog or feed it without properly washing their hands. Puppies and geriatric dogs generally get more severe clinical signs. The average adult dog will cough for a week or so and then clear the infection. But sometimes the dog has to be hospitalized for treatment. Kennel cough is generally diagnosed or at least suspected based on history and physical examination. We run blood tests and take x-rays but this is more to guide treatment then to confirm a diagnosis. There are vaccines. But these do not prevent disease. Rather they attenuate kennel cough, i.e. vaccinated dogs present with less severe signs. We try to isolate infected dogs. People are safe but not other dogs. Not every coughing dog needs to see a veterinarian. But if a cough is not going away, if the dog seems listless and especially if it loses its appetite, then I think a trip to the local veterinary hospital is a good idea.
Dr. David Roy Hensen, DVM, DABVP has been a Veterinarian since 1983. He opened Paumanok Veterinary Hospital in 1992 and is board certified in the American Board of Veterinary Specialists, canine and feline.