, Newburyport, MA

June 14, 2013

Protect your pet from kennel cough

Paw Prints, Heidi Bassler

---- — Vacation time is finally here. If your family includes a dog, then you’ve made plans for Fido, too. You remembered to book the boarding kennel or find a hotel that allows dogs or a dog-friendly campsite. In any case, the lodging probably asked you to bring Fido’s vaccination records, including for kennel cough.

What is kennel cough? If you’re a dog owner, you’ve surely heard this term. Yes, it causes a cough. And yes, it can be associated with kennels. But your pooch can get sick even if he never steps paw inside a kennel. So what’s the scoop?

Kennel cough is an infectious tracheobronchitis of dogs. That means it’s an infection of the large airways, and it’s contagious from dog to dog. Dogs in close proximity are more likely to become infected. Hence the term kennel cough.

However, dogs may be exposed to these germs in other situations, as well. Think of kennel cough like a cold for people. We are more likely to become infected if we’re around other people with a cold, such as on crowded public transportation, visiting a sick friend indoors, or simply out and about being exposed to these germs.

Dogs with kennel cough usually have a recent history of boarding, being at a groomer, playing with dogs at day care or in a dog park, or having been adopted from a shelter or rescue group. Sometimes, though, we are unable to pinpoint the origin.

What makes this more challenging is that dogs can be infectious even when they are not symptomatic. A dog that is recovering from kennel cough can continue to infect other dogs for a couple of weeks after coughing has resolved. So just because that other cute canine in the park looks healthy, that doesn’t mean he can’t pass a doggy social disease to your furry friend.

Kennel cough can be caused by myriad bacteria or viruses, but the primary culprit is Bordetella bronchiseptica. This germ is a cousin of the bacteria that causes whooping cough in people. In addition to inflammation of the large airways, concurrent swelling of the vocal cords can cause laryngitis, resulting in the characteristic “goose honk” cough. Owners also often report that their dog has vomited, but in fact, the poor pooch is having the gag reflex and retching from excessive mucus in his throat.

Other than the classic cough, some dogs with kennel cough are active and eating well. However, this disease may cause fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and, occasionally, pneumonia and death.

Although most dogs with kennel cough will recover uneventfully, nursing care and medication can make Fido feel better. If your dog is up all night coughing, ask your veterinarian for a cough suppressant. Depending on the clinical presentation, antibiotics may be indicated, too. However, antibiotics do not help all cases of kennel cough.

Vaccination is a good option for dogs at higher risk, and is required by most boarding kennels and some other dog establishments. Discuss your dog’s lifestyle with your veterinarian, so that you can decide together whether the kennel cough vaccine is a good idea for your Fido.

There are two different kinds of kennel cough vaccines. One is given by injection under the skin, much like other vaccines that your dog would receive. The other is administered as drops up his nose. Each has pros and cons, so talk with your veterinarian about which would be a better choice for your dog.

Some things to keep in mind about these vaccines:

The intranasal vaccine is usually effective within a few days. This can be helpful if your vacation is just around the corner. This is in contrast to the injectable vaccine, which can take a month to protect your pooch.

The intranasal vaccine can cause coughing or other kennel cough symptoms in some dogs. This does not happen with the injectable vaccine.

Some dogs absolutely hate the intranasal vaccines and will put up a big struggle to avoid it. You can’t imagine how strong and wiggly your dog is until he tries to get away during that vaccine administration. For those patients, the injectable vaccine is probably a better option.

The first time the injectable vaccine is given, it needs to be repeated a few weeks later to be effective. Unfortunately, some people forget this booster. Studies have shown that these dogs are not protected.

No kennel cough vaccine will be 100 percent effective, because the disease can be caused by many different germs.

Enjoy your vacation and let Fido enjoy his, too. If he gets the sniffles, give him lots of rest and TLC. If he doesn’t get better, then a checkup and some medicine may be just what the doctor ordered.


Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital ( She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on AM-1450 WNBP. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to