Also referred to as infectious tracheobronchitis, kennel cough is an illness that affects the upper airways, causing inflammation of the trachea (windpipe) and the bronchial airways (smaller tubes that branch off from the trachea). It is primarily caused by bacterial and viral infections but can also be caused by parasites, smoke inhalation, and chronic coughing from other diseases. Kennel cough is usually accompanied by a hacking cough and throat irritation due to severe inflammation of the lining of the airways. The cough can improve after a few days but may persist for a few weeks in some cases.
Kennel cough can affect all dogs, and it occurs more frequently in unvaccinated puppies, senior dogs, and immunosuppressed dogs. Kennel cough can be caused by several organisms, including bacteria likeBordetella bronchiseptica and viruses like influenza. In severe cases, these infections can progress to pneumonia and cause serious illness in dogs.
Like cold and flu in humans, kennel cough can spread very quickly, especially during the summer months and in areas where there are many dogs. This includes hospitals, dog parks, and boarding and daycare facilities, so “kennel” cough is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to upper respiratory illnesses. Because this name can create confusion for pet owners, many veterinarians have adopted a new name for this kind of infection – canine infectious respiratory disease complex or CIRDC.
If your veterinarian suspects kennel cough, then she will likely recommend blood work to check your dog’s white blood cell count and chest x-rays to evaluate your dog’s lungs and airways. She may also recommend hospitalization with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and other facets of supportive care. If your dog is having trouble breathing, then oxygen therapy and nebulization treatments may be recommended.