The signs shown are a distinctive cough of variable intensity and duration depending on the individual and the infectious agent(s) involved. The cough is often deep and hacking and can lead to retching, sneezing, snorting, gagging or vomiting. Often coughing will start after excitement or exercise. Discharges from the nose and eyes can be seen. Fever can occur. Rarely there can be progression to pneumonia. Symptoms start 3 to 10 days or so after infection and may continue for 3 weeks or more.
Several infectious agents can cause kennel cough and often more than one agent is involved at the same time. A number of viruses have been associated with this disease, a common one being a parainfluenza virus. The bacterium most commonly isolated is Bordetella bronchiseptica.
Both viruses and bacteria are spread in the air by infected dogs sneezing and coughing. Where large numbers of dogs are in close contact, as in kennels or dog shows, infection can spread rapidly and has the potential to affect a high proportion of dogs. The infectious agents damage and irritate the lining of the wind-pipe (trachea) and upper respiratory tract resulting in coughing.
Diagnosis of uncomplicated disease is often based on the presenting clinical signs and history. Groups of dogs housed together that present similar signs can make a diagnosis of kennel cough more probable. In an individual animal, diagnosis can be more difficult as coughing is a symptom that may have a wide variety of causes. However, if the dog has recently been in contact with other animals then a diagnosis of kennel cough may be more likely.
There is no specific treatment for viruses involved in kennel cough but antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial infections. Other treatments are supportive. They may or may not be appropriate, depending on the individual case. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to advise you on the best treatment, which may include:
Cough suppressants (antitussives) may be appropriate in some cases depending on the type of cough
Infected dogs should be rested and isolated from other susceptible dogs
Kennel cough vaccination against Bordetella bronchiseptica and parainfluenza virus is available. Kennels will often not accept dogs that have not received an up to date vaccination. Vaccinations should be given well before going to kennels or dog shows; ask your veterinary surgeon for advice. Please note, these vaccinations will not prevent all infectious causes of coughing.