Just as human colds may be caused by many different viruses, kennel cough itself can have multiple causes. One of the most common culprits is a bacterium called Bordetella which is why kennel cough is often called Bordetella. Most dogs that become infected with Bordetella are infected with a virus at the same time. These viruses, which are known to make dogs more susceptible to contracting Bordetella infection, include canine adenovirus, canine distemper virus, canine herpes virus, parainfluenza virus and canine reovirus.
Dogs catch kennel cough when they inhale bacteria or virus particles into their respiratory tract. This tract is normally lined with a coating of mucus that traps infectious particles, but there are a number of factors that can weaken this protection and make dogs prone to kennel cough infection, which results in inflammation of the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe).
These factors include:
- Exposure to crowded and/or poorly ventilated conditions, such as are found in many kennels and shelters
- Cold temperatures
- Exposure to dust or cigarette smoke
- Travel-induced stress
Symptoms of Kennel Cough
The classic symptom of kennel cough is a persistent, forceful cough. It often sounds like a goose honk. This is distinct from a cough-like sound made by some dogs, especially little ones, which is called a reverse sneeze. Reverse sneezes can be normal in certain dogs and breeds, and usually only indicates the presence of post-nasal drip or a slight irritation of the throat. Some dogs with kennel cough may show other symptoms of illness, including sneezing , a runny nose, or eye discharge.
If your dog has kennel cough, he probably will not lose his appetite or have a decreased energy level. If your dog is hacking away or constantly making noises that make it sound like he's choking on something, he may have a case of kennel cough. Although kennel cough can sound terrible, most of the time it is not a serious condition, and most dogs will recover without treatment.
Treating and Preventing Kennel Cough
The NYC Department of Health requires the Bordetella vaccine every six months, not annually; as this vaccine is updated regularly for new strands of the bacteria, similar to the flu vaccine for humans. This is intended to prevent the bacteria commonly known as Kennel Cough. Please keep in mind that the Bordetella vaccine does not cover all the strands of bacteria connected to Kennel Cough and therefore it is likely for your furry friend to contract symptoms even if he is vaccinated. Additionally, the bacteria is air born and can possibly travel across a few city blocks, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint the source of the exposure.
Kennel cough is contagious. If you think your dog might have the condition, you should keep him away from other animals and contact your veterinarian.