‘Kennel cough’ is the term used to describe upper respiratory tract infections in dogs. Most dogs who pick it up have not been to kennels, but just out and about where other dogs also walk. The condition is caused by a variety of viruses and, less commonly, a bacterial infection. It can occur at any time of year but is most frequently seen during the autumn and other periods of damp weather.
For most dogs, the symptoms of Kennel Cough are mild, consisting mainly of a retchy cough, which is often described as sounding like something is stuck in the throat. The majority of affected dogs are no more (and often less) unwell than we would expect to be with a cold and recover uneventfully within a few days. Very old or very young dogs, and those with preexisting respiratory problems, are occasionally more severely affected but it is unusual for them to become seriously ill.
Treatment is often unnecessary but anti-inflammatory medication can be prescribed for dogs who are coughing a lot and develop a sore throat. Antibiotics are rarely required, as the infection is viral and can be dealt with by the dog’s own immune system. Dogs with symptoms of kennel cough should stay at home for at least one week after coughing starts, to reduce the likelihood of passing on the infection. It is not unusual though for dogs to cough intermittently for several weeks after infection, particularly when they pull on the leads or first go out in the cold morning air.
Vaccines are available against one of the viruses (Parainfluenza) and the main bacteria (Bordetella bronchiseptica) involved in kennel cough, but they do not give complete protection as there are so many different viruses involved. Use of the vaccines was curtailed during the pandemic because they contain live bacteria and the risk to public health was considered to be higher than usual. We have now started administering the vaccine again, when it is safe for the humans in the household to do so. It is worth remembering that we vaccinate for kennel cough because it is a common condition and causes disruption to normal routines, rather than because it is life threatening, as is the case with the other diseases we protect against.