Last year there was a large outbreak of Kennel Cough in dogs at this time of year. Once again we are seeing plenty of cases this autumn though nowhere near the number we saw last year. Kennel Cough is an infectious cough which transmits very readily between dogs but (unlike its name suggests) not just in kennels – a chance meeting in the field or park will suffice to pass the infection on.
In many dogs it causes a distressing and persistent cough, however, some dogs will get complications such as pneumonia which can be life-threatening.
Kennels and dog shows inadvertently provide a perfect environment for spread of the bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. You have a large population of dogs whom are under a degree of stress as they are out of their normal home environment. It only takes one dog to be carrying kennel cough, without the owner knowing yet, for an outbreak to occur. This combination allows for easy transmission just as you may get in a classroom or workplace when a cold is “going ‘round”.
It is interesting that there has also been an outbreak of “Whooping Cough” in people recently, which is caused by a related but different bacteria called Bordetella pertussis.
The good news for dogs is that there is a pretty effective vaccination available which is squirted in your dog’s nose. The aim is to create a local immunity at the point of entry of the bacteria and thus prevent the organism reaching the trachea (windpipe) where the main damage & symptoms arise.
As with any infection the more dogs that have immunity in the population then the less likely is the chance of a severe outbreak like the one we saw last year.
However, coughing isn’t always caused by kennel cough. Another common cause is heart disease in dogs. Generally, the heart copes with disease for a period of time until the pressures in the circulation forces fluid into the small air-pockets (alveoli) in the lung tissue. This fluid is coughed out by the dog as it builds up. The first sign of heart disease may be a murmur or abnormal harsh sound when the Vet listens to their chest. Sometimes they will be struggling to breathe or exercise.
Whatever the cause, it’s a good idea to get you dog checked if they get a persistent cough. And if you don’t already, then please consider vaccinating your dog against kennel cough; it will help protect them as well as reducing the risk to other dogs in their neighbourhood.