Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Best to Prevent Kennel Cough


Pet Column for the week of January 31, 2000


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

"Before you bring your dogs to a boarding kennel, dog show, puppy school, or other
situation where they'll be around a lot of dogs, it's a good idea to vaccinate your dog
against kennel cough," says Dr. Jennifer Brinson, veterinarian formerly at the University of Illinois
Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in Urbana. "Kennel cough is a highly contagious
respiratory condition thought to be caused by a bacteria called Bordatella. Kennel cough
vaccines are not generally necessary for house dogs that rarely have contact with other
dogs."

There are two types of vaccines for kennel cough. The injectable vaccine takes a while to
have an effect, so it's not the best choice if you are in need of rapid protection. The
intranasal (inhaled through the nose) vaccine has a quicker effect and is best for more
immediate pet contact situations.

You can vaccinate for kennel cough as early as 4 weeks of age. Annual and sometimes
bi-annual boosters are needed. Dr. Brinson suggests getting an additional booster before
intense exposure to other dogs.

Kennel cough causes bouts of high pitched, honk-like coughing that keeps both you and
your pet awake at night for up to 2 weeks. Onset of this bacterial disease occurs abruptly
after contact with infected dogs. Dr. Brinson says that some owners also note vomiting in
their dogs, but usually their pets are just expelling a large amount of phlegm. Pretty gross,
huh?

"During an infection, dogs generally keep up their normal activity level and don't feel too
sick," says Dr. Brinson. There is no cure for kennel cough except time. Thus, prevention is
the best way to contend with this disease. "However, kennel cough is self-limiting and will
generally clear up in a couple of weeks even without any medication."

Owners should be aware of possible secondary infections, which may lead to pneumonia. If
pneumonia sets in, antibiotics may be necessary to help clear the infection. At this stage,
getting phlegm out of the dog’s system is key for recovery, which is why cough suppressant
medication is not appropriate. Intense coughing can be painful for your pet, so limit activity;
the more Fido moves around, the more he will cough.

If you have other dogs in the house, they will probably get kennel cough too, but you can
take some precautionary measures. "Separate everyone," says Dr. Brinson, "and wash your
hands after contact with each dog. Use bleach to clean areas where your sick dog has
been.

"If your pet is coughing for more than 2 or 3 days without signs of improvement, bring your
pet to your veterinarian," says Dr. Brinson. "Your canine's cough may not be kennel cough."
If you see any secondary signs, such as depression, lack of appetite, fever, blood in
phlegm, or difficulty breathing, bring your pet into your local veterinarian for assessment and
treatment.

Most importantly, if your dog does have kennel cough, don't take him into a situation where
he will put other dogs at risk of infection.