Created: May 26, 2022 07:59
Antibiotic treatment is rarely needed with kennel cough, says local vet Lucy Richardson
If you own a dog right now, you’ve probably heard of kennel cough.
We have an outbreak on the island and I feel like every other date I see involves this annoying disease. But what is kennel cough and how can we prevent it?
Kennel cough, or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a common and highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs. It is caused by infection with various bacteria and viruses, usually when dogs congregate in large numbers, such as training groups, daycares, boarding houses, and dog shows.
The main symptom of the disease is a staccato cough, which we often describe as a “goose horn” cough, but which can feel like something is stuck in your throat. Other mild symptoms include sneezing, fever, and eye discharge. Most owners say their dog is bright and happy on their own, but with an annoying cough – which seems to annoy the owner more than the dog, especially at night.
Treatment with antibiotics is rarely necessary and should be avoided if possible, to prevent the build-up of resistance. Sometimes a cough suppressant can be given to manage the symptoms, or something to reduce the fever, but usually no treatment is needed. Rest is important, and plan to keep your dog away from other dogs while they show symptoms, to prevent further spread.
A few of these mild cases develop into more severe cases of lethargy, lack of appetite and labored breathing. These dogs need medical intervention, which your veterinarian will advise you on. This is rare, however, and most dogs will show no symptoms within a few weeks.
So how can we prevent these outbreaks? Fortunately, a vaccine is available for the Bordetella bacteria, which causes most cases of kennel cough. The vaccine is usually given in two doses spaced four weeks apart, followed by a booster every six months. I would recommend getting your dog vaccinated if he attends daycare, group walks, boarding school, or group training classes. The vaccine will not prevent your dog from getting kennel cough, but it will lessen the symptoms and limit the duration of the disease process because your dog’s immune system will already be prepared for the disease.
Most viruses and bacteria that cause kennel cough cannot spread to humans. There have been very rare cases of dog-to-human spread with Bordetella bronchiseptica, where owners are immunocompromised, such as people with cancer or diabetes. But generally, kennel cough is not a problem for most humans.
So if your dog has an annoying ticklish cough, talk to your vet to see if it’s kennel cough. But ideally before symptoms appear, get them vaccinated to limit the spread of this irritating disease. A dose of prevention is definitely better than a cure when it comes to kennel cough.
Lucy Richardson graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2005. She founded CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband Mark. They live in the firm with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI National Chief Veterinarian for Bermuda