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Canine Kennel Cough

Helen Charlesworth - RVN

What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is the name given to the highly contagious upper airway disease of dogs. It is caused by either canine parainfluenza virus, bacterial infection called Bordetella Bronchiseptica or a combination of the two. Kennel cough itself only affects dogs as it is species specific, but the virus or bacteria can affect immunosuppressed humans.

How Is Kennel Cough Transmitted?

Kennel cough is transferred between dogs through direct contact with an infected dog or aerosols. It is very similar to us having the flu. It can be shared through the air by sneezing, coughing or breathing. It can also be passed on by direct contact with toys, food bowls, clothes and hands.

But Kennel Cough Is Only Seen In Kennels, Isn’t It?

Despite the name and popular belief, kennel cough is not just seen in kennels or rescue centres. It can be seen in all dogs but due to the disease being airborne by nature, is more commonly seen in dogs that encounter each other on a regular basis for example, dogs that regularly walk or play together.

What Are The Signs Of Kennel Cough?

The most common sign is a dry hacking cough which may seem as though the dog is trying to clear their throat (making owners worried that their dog is choking or has something stuck in their throat). The cough can be triggered by excitement, exercise or from pressure placed on the dog’s trachea (e.g. from a lead). However, some dogs affected may only show signs of a runny nose, or a green nasal discharge.

Affected dogs generally remain alert and active with a good appetite and no fever. However, in rare cases the disease may progress to pneumonia and the affected dog will cough up mucus, have nasal discharge, a fever, difficulties breathing, lose their appetite and appear depressed or lethargic.

Why Give The Kennel Cough Vaccination?

If your dog comes into contact with the kennel cough disease and is vaccinated, then the clinical signs are often reduced.

The vaccine will also reduce shedding of the parainfluenza virus.

How Is The Vaccination Given & How Often?

The vaccination is administered by nasal spray once a year.

At What Age Can The Vaccine Be Given?

The vaccine can be given to any healthy dog over 3 weeks of age. Because it is transmitted from dog to dog, all dogs that are social and may mix with unvaccinated dogs are at risk.

These include:

  • Young puppies
  • Social dogs meeting possible unvaccinated dogs on walks
  • Dogs going into kennels (vaccination should be given a minimum of 2 weeks before going in the kennel)
  • Older dogs with a clinical disease that could reduce their immunity. However, the vaccine may not work as well with dogs that are receiving immunotherapy.

What Are The Side Effects?

Vaccinated dogs can shed the Bordetella Bronchiseptica vaccine strain for 6 weeks and the canine parainfluenza vaccine strain for a few days after receiving the vaccination. Dogs may react to the vaccine strains with mild and temporary respiratory signs.

When Should My Dog Not Be Given The Kennel Cough Vaccine?

The vaccine should not be given if there are very young children, pregnant ladies or anyone immunocompromised in the house.
If they are not in close contact i.e. living with the dog, they should avoid contact with the vaccine or vaccinated dog for at least
6 weeks.

My Dog Doesn’t Like Having The Kennel Cough Vaccination – What Can I Do?

We can help your dog become less stressed when having the kennel cough vaccine by them coming in for social visits at the practice. During this time a nurse can practise getting them used to the vaccine process.

For more information about kennel cough, book a nurse clinic appointment or visit your local practice.

Kennel Cough Training Case Study

Buddy has always struggled with having the kennel cough vaccine as it is administered up the nose. In addition to popping in for regular ear cleaning and social visits, Buddy also began to visit Clinic Nurse, Helen for kennel cough training at Pride Veterinary Centre.

Helen initially started by getting Buddy to place his chin on her hand and rewarding this with a treat. His owner then continued this at home and taught him the command ‘chin’.

Once Buddy was happy with this, Helen then moved to the next stage which involved Buddy putting his chin on her hand whilst Helen showed him an empty syringe and again rewarded this behaviour with a treat.

When he was happy with this stage, Helen touched his nose with the syringe and gave him a treat. His owner then took the syringe home so she could continue practising this step with Buddy.

On the next visit Helen got Buddy to place his chin on her hand for a little longer, touched his nose with an empty syringe and once he was happy she placed the tip of the syringe on the end of his nostril and rewarded him with a treat. Again, his owner continued this at home too.
When Buddy was happy with the progression, a little water was placed in the syringe and when buddy placed his chin on Helen’s hand the water was squirted up his nose (to mimic the vaccination.)

Buddy was initially not happy with this, so she took it back a step. When Buddy was more settled Helen tried again with the water and Buddy became more tolerant to it.

When Helen felt he was comfortable and happy with the process, she arranged for Buddy to have his kennel cough vaccination. Due to the training and practising that Helen and Buddy’s owner had been doing, it meant that he had his vaccination with ease and very little stress!