Canine infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as kennel cough, is one of the most prevalent infectious diseases in dogs. Fortunately, the majority of cases are not serious, resolving on their own in 1 to 2 weeks. Some dogs can develop complications from kennel cough, so it is important that you monitor your new pet closely.
Kennel cough can be caused by a number of different airborne bacteria (such as Bordetella bronchiseptica) and viruses (such as canine parainfluenza) or a mycoplasma (an organism somewhere between a virus and a bacteria). Typically, more than one of these pathogens (disease-causing agents) must bombard the dog at once to trigger illness. Such a multifaceted attack is most likely to occur when a dog spends time in close quarters with many other dogs. Dogs that have traveled long distances, been exposed to infected dogs, or have been temporarily stressed are more susceptible to kennel cough. The incubation period is usually 2-14 days after exposure.
The primary sign of kennel cough is a dry sounding, spasmodic cough caused by pathogens that induce inflammation of the trachea (windpipe) and bronchi (air passages into the lungs). At the end of a coughing spell, a dog will often retch and cough up a white foamy discharge. Many people describe this as “something is caught in their throat,” it is analogous to a chest cold for humans. Some dogs also develop conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelids), rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal mucous membrane), and a nasal discharge. Affected dogs usually remain active and alert and continue to eat well. But if you suspect your dog has kennel cough, isolate it from other dogs and make a vet appointment.
Veterinarians can typically diagnose kennel cough from a physical exam and history. The cough is very characteristic and can be easily elicited by massaging the dog’s larynx or trachea. If the dog is depressed; feverish; expelling a thick yellow or green discharge from its nose; or making abnormal lung sounds, the vet may want to perform diagnostic tests. This can include a complete blood count (CBC), chest x-ray, and laboratory analysis of the microorganisms inhabiting your dog’s airways. These tests can help determine whether the dog has developed pneumonia or another infectious illness such as canine distemper.
If your dog is diagnosed with kennel cough, your vet will likely prescribe an antibiotic to help prevent any secondary bacterial infection and a cough suppressant. Before any treatment regimen is administered, is it is imperative that a proper veterinary examination and appropriate diagnostics be performed.