Infectious Tracheobronchitis (Kennel Cough) in Dogs

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Overview of Kennel Cough in Dogs

You might think your dog has something stuck in his throat. The cough associated with acute infectious tracheobronchitis, (ITB) or kennel cough, is a high-pitched, honk-like cough, sometimes followed by retching.

Kennel cough is a highly contagious inflammation of the trachea (windpipe) and bronchial tree caused by a contagious virus (adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, canine distemper virus) or bacterium (Bordetella bronchiseptica). The disease is associated most often with dogs housed in a high-density population or boarding kennel. The infectious agents can be transmitted through the air or by contact with contaminated surfaces. Puppies and younger dogs are at greatest risk, but even old dogs can acquire kennel cough.

The incubation period from the time the dog first contracts the infection to the time that symptoms develop is typically between 3 to 10 days, and the symptoms can last for days to weeks. A mild to moderate cough without other symptoms is usually self-limiting; however, occasional cases become lingering and cause chronic bronchitis.

What to Watch For

Kennel cough causes a variety of symptoms that can vary in severity.

  • Signs of upper respiratory problems such as conjunctivitis (irritated eyes), rhinitis (runny nose) or sneezing may be observed.
  • Cough. The classic symptoms are bouts of a loud, honking cough that worsen with activity or excitement and can persist for minutes. The dog will often act as if something is stuck in the throat and retch or vomit up fluid after coughing. If secondary bacterial pneumonia develops, the dog often shows signs of illness such as loss of appetite, depression, or fever.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Difficult breathing

    Any of these signs should prompt a visit to see your veterinarian in order to be certain pneumonia has not set in.

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    Diagnosis of Infectious Tracheobronchitis in Dogs

    Complete medical history will usually reveal recent exposure to a kennel or other dogs. Windpipe sensitivity is present in most cases. Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize kennel cough and exclude other diseases. These tests may include:

  • A chest X-ray may be recommended to determine if pneumonia is present.
  • Routine laboratory blood tests-a complete blood count (CBC) or blood chemistry panel is not necessary unless your pet is showing signs of generalized illness, fever or loss of appetite.
  • A fecal flotation should be done to exclude intestinal parasites.
  • If signs of eye involvement are observed, the cornea of the eye should be examined carefully.
  • Treatment of Infectious Tracheobronchitis in Dogs

    Therapy is controversial because the disease is usually self-limiting (like a human cold) and, if a viral infection is suspected, antibiotics can’t kill the virus. This is especially true in mild, uncomplicated cases where treatment is supportive-not unlike that given to a person with a bad cold. Treatments for kennel cough may include one or more of the following:

  • Cough suppressants are appropriate for some pets with kennel cough. Your veterinarian can discuss the pros and cons of this treatment. Injections or pills (butorphanol) are often used, but occasionally, a stronger medicine is needed (codeine-related) to break the cough cycle. Don’t use over-the-counter human medicine without first speaking to your veterinarian.
  • Antibiotics are used in some patients, especially if Bordetella infection or secondary bacterial infection is likely.
  • If the symptoms do not improve or should they become chronic, a careful re-evaluation including blood tests and a chest X-ray is indicated.
  • Home Care

  • Deworming of puppies is appropriate if they have not recently received such treatments.

    To prevent the spread of kennel cough, keep your dog away from other dogs for at least one week. In addition, do the following:

  • Limit exercise and enforce periods of rest; don’t exercise or play with your dog. Activity often initiates periods of loud, uncomfortable coughing.
  • Encourage adequate fluid intake to maintain hydration. Provide soft food if dry food irritates the throat.
  • If your dog normally wears a restraint collar, remove it or replace it with a harness to decrease airway irritation.
  • Avoid environmental stresses including house dust, vapors, chemical fumes and tobacco smoke.
  • To mobilize secretions and reduce coughing, provide humidified air (e.g. a vaporizer in the dog’s room or in a steamy bathroom for one or two hours).
  • Preventative Care

    Vaccinations provide very good protection against ITB in most dogs. However, like all vaccinations, protection is not 100 percent and some dogs will contract ITB despite vaccination.

    In-depth Information Kennel Cough in Dogs

    Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis (ITB), also known as the kennel cough complex, refers to a group of acute contagious infectious respiratory diseases in dogs, which can cause inflammation of the larynx, trachea, bronchi and lung. The condition is especially common in unvaccinated, young dogs.

  • Acute tracheobronchitis indicates an inflammatory reaction in the airways. This inflammation usually causes variable increases in tracheobronchial secretions (mucus and “sputum”) and a cough.
  • If respiratory clearance mechanisms or immunity are insufficient, pneumonia may develop from the primary infection or from secondary bacterial invaders. Some viruses and bacteria have a predilection for the nasal cavity and membranes of the eye (the conjunctiva), leading to signs of an upper respiratory infection similar to a human cold.
  • Common infectious agents responsible for tracheobronchitis in the dog include: Bordetella bronchiseptica (a bacterium); canine parainfluenza virus; canine adenoviruse-2; canine reovirus (a minor cause); and canine herpesvirus (infrequent to rare cause). Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacterial and canine parainfluenza virus is the most common viral isolate noted in dogs with canine infectious tracheobronchitis (ITB).
  • Canine distemper virus can mimic these signs and lead to widespread organ disease.

    In addition to infectious (contagious) causes of tracheobronchitis, other conditions of the upper and lower airways may cause signs similar to those of infectious tracheobronchial infection. Your veterinarian may need to perform tests to rule out some of these other conditions. This is particularly true if initial treatment of the condition does not lead to an appropriate response. The list of potential causes of these symptoms is very long. They include:

  • Pharyngitis (tonsillitis)
  • Oral infections with seeding of the tracheobronchial tree
  • Laryngeal swelling
  • Intestinal parasites (worms)undergoing lung migration
  • Fungal infections of the lung
  • Pneumonia
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Respiratory tract parasites
  • Tracheal collapse
  • Allergic bronchitis or chronic bronchitis
  • Foreign body inhalation (something really is stuck in the throat)
  • Heart disease
  • Lung or windpipe tumor or cancer
  • Trauma to the trachea (windpipe)
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