Kennel cough, or infectious tracheobronchitis, is not caused by a single, infectious microorganism. Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria are often involved, but any of a number of viruses can also play a role. Kennel cough is most commonly seen in dogs that are stressed and grouped together, for example in shelters or boarding facilities. The bacteria and viruses that cause kennel cough are very contagious and can be transmitted under other circumstances as well, for example, at a dog park or obedience class.
Dogs with kennel cough have a dry, persistent cough but tend to continue to eat well and be fairly active. In some cases, pneumonia can develop, and affected animals often are very lethargic, lose their appetites, and have a moist, productive cough. Many veterinarians will diagnose kennel cough based on an animal's history, clinical signs, and a physical examination. If a dog's cough is especially severe or fails to improve as expected, chest x-rays and/or additional testing to identify which pathogen is involved may be necessary.
Most cases of kennel cough will resolve on their own, but treatment with antibiotics and cough suppressants can speed healing and keep patients more comfortable as the infection resolves. Be sure to see a veterinarian if a dog's cough worsens or fails to improve after a few weeks. Coughing dogs are potentially very contagious and should be isolated from other dogs. Preventative vaccination is available against some, but not all, of the bacteria and viruses that can cause kennel cough.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008