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That constant, annoying cough

Treatment with antibiotics is rarely required with kennel cough says local veterinarian Lucy Richardson

If you own a dog right now, you have probably heard of kennel cough.

We have an outbreak on the island and it feels like every other appointment I see involves this annoying disease. But what is kennel cough and how can we prevent it?

Kennel cough, or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a common and highly contagious respiratory disease of dogs. It is caused by infection with various bacteria and viruses, usually when dogs congregate in large numbers such as training groups, daycare, boarding and dog shows.

The major symptom of the disease is a hacking cough, which we often describe as a “goose-honking” cough, but can sound like something is stuck in the throat. Other mild symptoms include sneezing, fever and eye discharge. Most owners say their dog is bright and happy in themselves but with an annoying cough – which appears to annoy the owner more than the dog, especially at night.

Treatment with antibiotics is rarely required and should be avoided if possible, to prevent resistance building up. Sometimes a cough suppressant can be given to manage the symptoms, or something to reduce the fever, but commonly no treatment is needed at all. Rest is important and plan to keep your dog away from other dogs while symptomatic, to prevent further spread.

A few of these mild cases develop into more serious cases showing lethargy, lack of appetite and laboured breathing. These dogs do need some medical intervention, which your vet will advise you on. This is rare, however, and most dogs will be symptom-free within a couple of weeks.

So how can we prevent these outbreaks? Fortunately, a vaccine is available for the bacterium bordetella, which causes most cases of kennel cough. The vaccine is generally administered in two doses that are four weeks apart, followed by a booster every six months. I would recommend having your dog vaccinated if he attends daycare, group walks, boarding or group training classes. The vaccine will not prevent your dog from getting kennel cough but it will make the symptoms much milder and limit the length of the disease process because your dog’s immune system will already be primed for the disease.

Most of the viruses and bacteria causing kennel cough cannot spread to humans. There have been very rare cases of dog to human spread with bordetella bronchiseptica, where owners are immunocompromised, such as people with cancer or diabetes. But generally kennel cough is not a concern for most humans.

So if your dog has an annoying tickly cough, speak to your vet to see if it is kennel cough. But ideally before the symptoms arise, get them vaccinated to limit the spread of this irritating disease. A dose of prevention is definitely better than a cure when it comes to kennel cough.

Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda

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Published May 26, 2022 at 7:59 am (Updated May 26, 2022 at 7:47 am)

That constant, annoying cough

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