The hacking cough characteristic of Bordetella bronchiseptica in canines is closely related to pertussis – commonly known as whooping cough – in people. Because of widespread vaccination, relatively few youngsters in the developed world suffer from whooping cough. In canines, the condition is known colloquially as “kennel cough.” It’s more of a nuisance ailment than a serious disease, although in some dogs it can progress to a more severe respiratory infection.
Infectious tracheobronchitis, the formal name for kennel cough, is extremely contagious. Dogs pick up the infection from affected dogs, so if your pet isn't vaccinated and you take him to the dog park, obedience classes or anywhere else strange canines gather, he's vulnerable. Besides the honking cough, dogs with kennel cough might appear to retch, as if something's caught in the throat. Otherwise, they're usually fine, if a bit subdued, eating and drinking normally.
Dogs usually start coughing within two to 14 days after exposure. Kennel cough generally runs its course within two weeks. Your veterinarian might recommend supportive care, including running the humidifier for your dog to ease breathing and giving him cough suppressants. Use a harness rather than a collar when out for a walk, so there's no pressure on his trachea. Healthy, adult dogs generally recover on their own. It's sort of the equivalent of the human cold. However, very old or young dogs, or those with compromised immune systems, might require additional care and medication.
Bordetella sometimes isn't the only infectious culprit involved in kennel cough. If your dog isn't up to date on his standard vaccinations, canine parainfluenza, adenovirus and the herpes virus also contribute to infectious tracheobronchitis. Your vet might prescribe oral antibiotics to prevent a more serious respiratory infection if your dog is young, old or immunocompromised. If your dog spikes a fever, stops eating or shows other signs of respiratory infection, antibiotics might prevent pneumonia from developing.
If you intend to board your dog at a kennel, you'll almost certainly need to vaccinate him for bordetella. Available either intranasally or via injection, the bordetella vaccine doesn't provide complete protection to exposed dogs, but it does lessen symptom severity should your dog become infected. After the initial vaccination, the dog receives a booster about one month later, then a booster annually. If your dog regularly attends dog shows, doggie day care or other events with a large canine population, ask your vet about vaccinating every six months.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.