Kennel Cough

couching & Bordetella

“The universal symptom of a bordetella infection is a persistent, hard, honking cough. A sudden dry hacking cough, sneezing, snorting, retching, gagging or vomiting in response to very light pressure to the trachea, or a spasmodic cough when a dog is excited or exercising, are common symptoms of kennel cough. If your healthy dog suddenly develops spasmodic coughing, you should suspect kennel cough.”

Complete recovery from kennel cough can take up to three weeks in healthy dogs, and twice as long in older patients or those with underlying immunosuppressive conditions. Puppies can also take a bit longer to recover because their immune systems are not yet fully developed.

Since a serious episode of kennel cough can result in pneumonia, if your dog doesn’t start to improve on her own within about a week, the coughing becomes progressively worse, she develops a fever or stops eating, it’s very important to make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Most cases of kennel cough resolve on their own without medical intervention, so I don’t automatically recommend that you have to zip off to the veterinarian, especially for unnecessary antibiotics, because antibiotics don’t address the viral component of this infection. I always prefer to let the dog’s body heal itself naturally.

How Dogs Get Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is very contagious, and dogs can remain infectious for six to 14 weeks after symptoms resolve. Dog-to-dog exposure occurs when an infected dog coughs or sneezes and a healthy dog inhales the aerosolized respiratory secretions. The canine respiratory tract is coated in a protective lining of mucus. If this lining is compromised, an infection can take hold from the inhaled particles. The result is inflammation of the larynx and trachea. It’s the inflammation that causes the coughing.

If the healthy dog’s respiratory tract is compromised by stressors such as travel, being housed in a crowded environment, cold temperatures, environmental pollutants or infectious viruses, then Bordetella bronchiseptica, which is the chief infectious bacterial agent in kennel cough, can enter the respiratory tract.

Bordetella bacteria are usually accompanied by at least one other infectious agent, typically a virus. Kennel cough is actually multiple infections occurring at the same time and not just a single infection. This is one of the reasons the Bordetella vaccine is often not effective.

Most cases of kennel cough occur in dogs with suppressed immune systems who spend time in crowded quarters with inadequate ventilation and lots of warm air. Examples are boarding facilities, grooming shops and animal shelters.

Bordetella Vaccine?

Bordetella Vaccines

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Unfortunately, many boarding kennels, doggy daycares, groomers and even some veterinarians require dogs be vaccinated for kennel cough. It's important to realize the only reason these facilities demand your dog be vaccinated is simply to remove liability from their businesses.

As I mentioned earlier, kennel cough is most often a complex cocktail of different infections rather than a single infection. Because it's caused by a variety of different bacteria and viruses, there's no single vaccine that can provide protection for every potential infectious agent.

In addition, whatever protection the vaccine might offer wears off very quickly, usually in less than a year, which means your dog will need to be revaccinated at least annually if you use pet care businesses that insist on the vaccine.

On occasion, I have been forced to give the Bordetella vaccine for clients who must leave their pets at a boarding facility that requires it. I always use the intranasal vaccine, as it is significantly less toxic than the adjuvanted injectable vaccines, which I believe should never be used.

Treatment Options

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Kennel cough symptoms usually last between 10 and 20 days and can recur during periods of stress. Most cases resolve without medical intervention, so I don't automatically recommend treatment. Antibiotics aren't immediately warranted in most cases. Whenever possible, I prefer to let a dog's body heal itself naturally. Safe, all-natural remedies for kennel cough include:

  • Nosodes — A nosode is a homeopathic remedy derived from a pathological specimen. Nosodes stimulate the natural immune system to react against specific diseases. Kennel cough nosodes are particularly effective, but are by prescription only through your functional medicine veterinarian.

  • Esberitox — This is a fast-acting Echinacea from health food stores that I have found very effective in reducing the virulence of bordetella infections.

  • Vitamins C and E — Vitamin C is an antiviral and E provides immune system support.

  • Oregano oil has antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties.

  • Astragalus is an herb used in Chinese medicine to enhance the immune system, support lung function and stimulate the regeneration of bronchial cells.

  • Raw garlic and olive leaf are natural antibacterial and antiviral agents.

  • Raw manuka honey will ease the discomfort of coughing, and certain herbs will soothe and naturally suppress a cough, among them licorice root and marshmallow.

  • Essential oils can be diffused to help a pup with kennel cough breathe easier. Oils of eucalyptus, lavender and tea tree have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Chamomile has a calming effect.

Talk with your integrative veterinarian about which natural remedies and doses or applications are most appropriate for your pet. Dogs with kennel cough often have very sensitive tracheas, so a collar can trigger an episode of coughing. If your dog is coughing for any reason, I recommend using a harness rather than a collar to take all the pressure off the trachea. Dogs, and especially coughing dogs, should never be pulled around or led by the neck.

You might also try humidifying the air, if you believe your pet has kennel cough, as moisture in the environment can help reduce or alleviate coughing spells. Complete recovery from kennel cough can take up to three weeks in healthy dogs, and twice as long in older patients or in dogs with underlying immunosuppressive conditions. Puppies can also take a bit longer to recover.

Since a serious episode of kennel cough can result in pneumonia, if your dog doesn't start to improve on her own within about a week, or if the cough becomes progressively worse, it's important to make an appointment with your veterinarian to be on the safe side.

I also recommend seeing a vet if you have a puppy with symptoms that go beyond the typical symptoms of kennel cough. If he suddenly has a change in breathing patterns, has difficulty breathing, stops eating or has a markedly diminished energy level, it's time to make an appointment.

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