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What is kennel cough? 

Kennel cough (infectious tracheobronchitis) is a common cause of coughing in dogs and is a very contagious infection. Outbreaks often occur particularly when dogs have been in close contact with one another, hence the name ‘kennel cough’, as it will spread quickly through kennels where dogs are in close proximity.

What causes kennel cough?

The kennel cough infection causes inflammation in the trachea (windpipe) and upper airway, which makes the airway hypersensitive and causes dogs to cough. Kennel cough itself is not one condition but a syndrome caused by several different bacteria or viruses which produce similar symptoms. The most common bacterial cause is bordatella bronchiseptica, which is related (but different) to the bacteria that causes whooping cough in humans. Other causes include viruses such as the parainfluenza virus (unrelated to flu in humans).

It is important to note that despite the name, kennel cough is not only contracted in kennels. Due to the highly infectious nature of the infection, it can be passed easily between dogs as it spreads in air droplets, for example, dogs in a park could easily pass it to one another without actually touching. The usual incubation period, from exposure to development of signs of the infection, can vary between around 3 – 10 days.

In the majority of cases, no treatment beyond anti-inflammatories is required and in most cases, the infection will resolve in a week or two. However, in some cases, particularly if animals are very young, very old or have a suppressed immune system, they may require antibiotics, although this is the exception.

What are the signs and symptoms of kennel cough?

The signs of kennel cough may sometimes appear a little alarming and can come on suddenly: it is not uncommon for people to worry that their pet may have something stuck in their throat. The disease in most cases, however, is relatively mild and self-limiting.

The typical symptoms of kennel cough are:

  • A persistent harsh hacking cough, often with a gag or retch afterwards
  • Clear discharge from the nose and eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Pneumonia, although this is uncommon

If your pet seems unwell, we would advise visiting your local vet immediately so your vet can assess the situation.

How can kennel cough be prevented? 

A vaccine is available for kennel cough which covers the most common causes (bordatella and parainfluenza). The vaccine is a live vaccine — i.e. it works by causing a very mild infection to stimulate the body’s immunity. In the vast majority of cases, there are no symptoms of this, but rarely some animals may develop mild signs of kennel cough — this is uncommon and is more likely to happen in very young or immunosuppressed animals.

Although the kennel cough vaccination does not cover every cause of the infection and is not always 100% effective, however, it will significantly reduce the chance of illness. The vaccine will start to provide protection against bordatella after around three days but it can take three weeks to provide protection against parainfluenza.

How much is a kennel cough vaccination?

The vaccine used at Animal Trust costs £29 and is administered in the nose (no needles are involved). It is simply squirted into the nostril and protection lasts for one year.

As always, if you have any concerns for your pet’s health we provide free consultations to check your pet’s health, so book an appointment today.

Further Reading


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