3rd September, 2020

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Kennel cough is a common respiratory infection in dogs. It's caused by a number of bacteria and viruses that are inhaled into the respiratory tract.

Kennel cough inflames a dog’s lungs, windpipe (trachea) and voice box (larynx). It often sounds worse than it is and usually clears up without treatment. However, it can be life-threatening for puppies, old dogs, and dogs with a compromised immune system. It's also very contagious.

The scientific name for kennel cough is canine infectious tracheobronchitis. It's also known as canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC) and Bordetella, after one of the most common kennel cough bacterium (Bordetella bronchiseptica).

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What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

  • The main symptom is a consistent hacking cough. Your dog may also sound like they're choking on something. This cough is normally dry, but can sometimes produce mucus.
  • A runny nose and clear eye discharge. These are common symptoms. Cloudy discharge is a sign of a secondary infection.
  • A fever. This shows your dog’s body is working harder to fight the infection, which means the form of kennel cough might be more serious.
  • Tiredness. Your dog may have lower energy levels than usual, a poor appetite, and a lack of interest in activities they normally like. Lots of dogs with kennel cough still act like themselves, so lethargy can be a sign the infection is more serious.

Call your vet straightaway if your dog starts breathing rapidly and refuses their food. These are signs they could have other, more serious conditions.

What does kennel cough sound like?

It's a dry, hoarse sound, a bit like a goose honk. Your dog may sound like they have something stuck in their throat. Kennel cough is noticeably different from a sneeze or reverse sneeze, which are common in some breeds of dog.

How is kennel cough diagnosed?

There isn't one test that diagnoses kennel cough. A vet may diagnose your dog with kennel cough if they've got symptoms and have been around other dogs. Sometimes they take swabs to see which bacteria or virus has caused the infection, but this isn't needed for treatment to work.

The vet will take X-rays or blood tests if they think there are complications.

Always phone the vet before your visit if you suspect your dog has kennel cough. You'll need to keep away from other dogs when you visit to reduce the risk of the infection spreading.

How long does kennel cough last?

Most dogs improve within three weeks. Kennel cough can take up to six weeks to clear up in very young or old dogs, or in dogs with compromised immune systems.

Dogs can still be carriers of kennel cough for three weeks after they've recovered. Keep them away from other dogs to reduce the risk of the infection spreading.

Always see your vet if your dog's still coughing for more than six weeks. Ongoing kennel cough can lead to pneumonia in more serious cases.

How do you treat kennel cough?

Kennel cough often clears up without treatment. Sometimes vets prescribe antibiotics and anti-inflammatory cough medicine to treat the bacteria, speed up recovery, and make your dog more comfortable.

Kennel cough is contagious, so you'll need to keep your dog away from other animals while they're recovering, and for three weeks after recovery.

How can you prevent kennel cough?

Preventing kennel cough is very important because it spreads quickly. It can be expensive, time-consuming and stressful for dog owners, and uncomfortable for dogs.

It also has severe consequences for facilities that care for dogs and other pets, even if an outbreak isn’t their fault. These facilities may need to shut down while they take care of a kennel cough outbreak.

You can help to prevent kennel cough by:

  • Disinfecting everything your dog uses on a regular basis, including bowls, toys, kennels and any other accessories. Bowls should be washed with pet-safe detergent after every use. Toys can be cleaned with warm water and pet-safe detergent, then disinfected. Soak them in one part water and one part white vinegar for an hour, then rinse with water and dry with a clean cloth. Cloth toys can be washed in the machine.
  • Using an air purifier to get rid of airborne bacteria and viruses. You can buy air purification systems for your home, or for pet facilities like vet clinics, kennels, shelters and grooming salons.
  • Getting your dog vaccinated. There are three types of vaccine against kennel cough: an injection, an oral treatment, and a nasal mist. Puppy and booster vaccinations also protect your dog from some of the viruses that cause kennel cough. None of these vaccinations guarantee protection because kennel cough can be caused by a range of bacteria and viruses. However, they do reduce the risk of your dog catching it.

How long does the kennel cough vaccine last?

This depends on your dog's risk of catching kennel cough. Most dogs are given the vaccine once a year. However, dogs with a higher risk can be given it every six months.

The oral treatment and nasal mist protect against kennel cough sooner than the injection. None of the kennel cough vaccinations treat existing infections.

Does the kennel cough vaccination have side effects?

Some dogs may get mild side effects after they have the vaccine. These include coughing, sneezing, or discharge from the eyes or nose. These side effects are not serious and normally disappear a few days after the dog has been vaccinated.

How do dogs get kennel cough?

Lots of dogs catch it when they're in dog kennels or shelters, which is why it's known as kennel cough. The infection is airborne, which means the bacteria and viruses are spread through the air when an infected dog coughs or sneezes. It's easy for the infection to reach another dog if there are lots of them in one place.

Dogs are more likely to catch kennel cough if:

  • They're around other dogs with kennel cough
  • They're kept in crowded conditions
  • They're exposed to irritants like dust or smoke from bonfires or cigarettes
  • Their home is cold or poorly ventilated
  • They're stressed because they’ve had to travel

How is kennel cough spread?

Through the air

The bacteria and viruses that cause the infection become airborne when infected dogs cough, sneeze, bark and shed dander. These can stay alive for up to two weeks. They attach to dust particles until they're inhaled by another dog. This means they can easily reach other dogs.

Through shared items

Kennel cough can also be spread via shared items like toys and food bowls, or even on sticks and posts outside. The bacteria can survive on surfaces for up to two days.

Through direct contact with infected dogs

Dogs are more likely to catch kennel cough if they touch or go near infected dogs, even if they just sniff them. This is why infection spreads so quickly in places where there are lots of dogs close together, like doggy daycare, kennels and vet clinics.

You must isolate your dog as soon as you suspect they may have kennel cough. This limits the spread of the infection.

How long is kennel cough contagious for?

Dogs can spread kennel cough during the incubation period, which can last between two and 14 days. Some dogs carry kennel cough without showing any symptoms.

Occasionally, the infection is only caused by a bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica. Dogs with this strain of kennel cough can be contagious for between six and 14 weeks.

Can humans catch kennel cough?

Kennel cough is caused by a number of bacteria and viruses. Most of them can't be passed on to humans.

The main bacteria (Bordetella bronchiseptica) can infect humans, but only those with weakened immune systems. Even then, it's very rare.

Can I get pet insurance that covers kennel cough?

Direct Line pet insurance covers necessary treatment for separate conditions (up to £4,000 with essential cover and £8,000 with advanced cover). It also includes cover for disease and free, 24-hour online vet access with PawSquad.

Protect your dog today with Direct Line.

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