Preventing and Treating Kennel Cough
Bordetella, a bacterial respiratory illness, affects both dogs and cats, but is much more common and infectious in dogs. Dogs infected with Bordetella often experience hacking coughs and sneezing. In cats, it can cause sneezing and nasal discharge. Humans are not generally at risk for infection, though people with immune deficiencies or immune disorders may be at risk if exposed to infected dogs.
Commonly referred to as kennel cough in dogs, Bordetella isn’t necessarily life-threatening, but it can cause complications in old or very young animals. Kennel cough is very contagious and has an infection rate so high that most dogs will have it at least once in their lifetime.
How do dogs catch Bordetella?
Most pets catch Bordetella in areas with poor air circulation such as boarding facilities and kennels. The risk is even higher if the facility is unclean or serves a lot of dogs. However, kennel cough is so easy for dogs to catch that they may become infected by sharing a water bowl at the park or by greeting another dog.
Young dogs and dogs that have not been vaccinated are also at a very high risk of catching kennel cough. Pets in shelters are also at high risk, depending on the quality of the shelter and the number of animals housed there.
Dogs may show symptoms such as coughing and hacking, though they will remain alert and continue to eat and drink. However, in severe cases, dogs may experience fevers, lethargy, lack of appetite or thirst, or pneumonia. Bordetella in and of itself is rarely fatal, and death resulting from complications is more common.
Dogs who are frequently boarded or who socialize with other dogs on a regular basis are more at risk due to exposure. Kennels that receive a large number of dogs are the most likely sources. It’s important to look for symptoms in other dogs when socializing.
Most reputable kennels will require a dog or cat to be vaccinated against Bordetella before accepting them. Camp Diego requires vaccination records before a dog will be admitted to the dog daycare. Vets recommend vaccinating dogs against Bordetella every six months. The vaccine works by exposing the animal to a small dose of the bacteria in order to build an immunity to it. The vaccine is usually administered via injection or with nasal drops. The vaccine will not be as useful to a dog who has already had Bordetella.
Kennels and dog daycares can prevent kennel cough by ensuring that their equipment, toys, and environments are always kept clean.
Treating Kennel Cough
Contacting a veterinarian immediately is essential. Often time kennel cough will go away on its own without the help of antibiotics, but if left untreated, it can result in serious complications like bronchitis and pneumonia, especially in puppies and kittens. If an animal is showing symptoms of kennel cough, it must be isolated immediately to prevent spreading the infection.
Once an animal has kennel cough, keeping them comfortable will help ease the stress of being ill. For example, when out walking the dog, use a harness instead of a collar to prevent unnecessary pulling around the throat. A humidifier or vaporizer can also provide some relief as steam reduces swelling and lubricates the throat.
Antibiotics and cough suppressors may be prescribed by a veterinarian, but these measures will not reduce the time frame in which a dog is a potential spreader of the infection. A vet may also use steroids or stronger antibiotics. However, in more serious cases, cough suppressors and steroids are not recommended for due to risk of immunosuppression—reducing the efficacy of the immune system to fight the infection.
In conclusion, though kennel cough is a common respiratory infection among dogs and cats, it’s far more prevalent and infectious in dogs. Pet owners can prevent Bordetella from spreading by vaccinating their pets. Pet owners can also reduce the risk of catching and spreading the Bordetella infection by monitoring the dogs their pet socializes with, checking out boarding facilities ahead of time for cleanliness and air ventilation, and keeping up with monthly vaccinations. People with immune disorders or deficiencies should be cautious around new dogs or unfamiliar dog daycares.
Debbie Smith has boarded her dogs many times and wants to share some information on ways to prevent your dog from getting kennel cough.