Monthly Doctor’s Blog: Kennel Cough

Every month, the doctors of AtlasVet are writing a blog post to help pet owners with common questions. 

This month, Dr. Ali Sanz discusses common questions around Kennel Cough!

What is Kennel Cough or CIRD?

Kennel cough is a general term to describe an infectious disease that infects the upper airways in dogs (nose, trachea, bronchi) causing them to cough. The disease is limited to the upper airway, however in severe cases it has the potential to progress to pneumonia. The bacteria Bordetella is the most known cause of kennel cough, however there are actually multiple different pathogens (bacteria or viruses) that can cause kennel cough. We will usually see a combination of multiple viruses or bacteria involved when a dog starts coughing. Therefore, in more recent years, we have re-labelled the disease Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease complex (CIRD), which better describes the disease in broader terms.

The most common associated pathogens are listed below:

● Bordetella bronchiseptica (optional vaccine)

● Parainfluenza virus (core vaccine)

● Adenovirus type 2 (core vaccine)

● Canine distemper virus (core vaccine)

● Canine influenza virus (optional vaccine)

● Canine herpesvirus

● Mycoplasma canis

● Canine reovirus

● Canine respiratory coronavirus

How is CIRD diagnosed?

Diagnosis of CIRD is made based on clinical signs, recent exposure, and physical examination. CIRD cannot be diagnosed from a video or look of a cough alone, as many other types of coughs can mimic CIRD. There are multiple causes for coughing in dogs, such as pneumonia, heart failure, bronchitis, so it is important to speak with a veterinarian if your dog is coughing to make sure it is not more serious. However, classically CIRD presents as hacking cough with production of white foam. You can also see gagging after a cough, or nasal discharge. In general, it is typically described as if your dog has something “stuck in their throat.” My dog is coughing, what now? CIRD is typically a self-limiting disease (meaning it will go away on its own without any medications) in healthy animals. Most signs resolve within 10 days but may take up to 6 weeks for full resolution. Depending on severity of clinical signs, if there is a suspicion of a Bordetella infection, or if there is concern for a secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. However, because CIRD can be caused by viruses, antibiotics may not be effective if your dog does not have a bacterial infection.

How do I prevent CIRD?

Yearly vaccinations can greatly reduce your dog’s risk of contracting CIRD or significantly lessens signs. However, not all viruses that cause CIRD have vaccines. The core vaccine that we give (DHPP), which is commonly called “distemper”, covers for Canine Distemper Virus, Adenovirus, and Parainfluenza. The optional vaccine Bordetella, which we also recommend at Atlas, covers for the bacteria Bordetella. Vaccinated dogs can still become infected and develop signs of the disease. Vaccines greatly reduce the severity of clinical signs and prevent the progression of pneumonia however, do not fully prevent the cough.

Is CIRD contagious?

Kennel cough is highly contagious. It is typically spread through aerosolized respiratory droplets (from another dog coughing near yours) or through fomites (another dog coughs on the sidewalk, and your dog sniffs the same area). Therefore, your dog can still potentially get kennel cough with no prior exposure to other dogs. There is variable research of how long your dog is contagious for. Some evidence shows they can still shed Bordetella up to 3 months after infection. However, if your dog has been diagnosed with kennel cough, we typically recommend isolating them for the duration of their clinical signs and one week after those signs resolve.