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Kennel Cough – How to Treat at Home and When to Call the Vet By Jessica Turquette – owner of Moab BARKery

If you have a dog, you’ve probably heard of kennel cough (scientific name: infectious tracheobronchitis) because it’s a very common upper respiratory infection in dogs. In fact, if your pet has recently been in an animal shelter, boarding facility or some other setting where there were lots of other dogs, and now she’s coughing frequently or making choking sounds, she may have acquired the infection.

Kennel cough is similar to a chest cold in humans and is actually a form of bronchitis. It can be triggered by several different viruses and bacteria, but by far the most common culprit is the simultaneous presence of the parainfluenza virus and the bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica.

How Dogs Acquire Kennel Cough
Kennel cough is highly contagious, and dogs can remain infectious for many weeks after their symptoms disappear. 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, which is what 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 completely 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.

What to Look For
Generally speaking, if an otherwise healthy dog suddenly develops a persistent cough, it’s usually due to an infection in the form of some type of kennel cough, virus, bacteria, or a combination.

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 all common symptoms of kennel cough. A nasal discharge may be present, and sometimes there can also be fever.

Most symptoms of kennel cough occur 2 to 14 days after exposure, and dogs usually continue to eat and remain alert. When the condition is more serious, they can become lethargic and lose their appetite.

Rarely, pneumonia can develop. In a worst-case scenario, the infection can lead to death, but it’s important to know that severe cases of kennel cough primarily occur in immunocompromised dogs or in very young puppies. It’s very rare to lose a dog with a competent immune system to kennel cough.

Diagnosis is made by observing one or more of the symptoms noted above, often coupled with a history of the dog having spent time at a boarding facility, puppy mill or shelter. If the infection is serious and the dog has pneumonia, bacterial cultures should be performed to identify the specific pathogens involved. Some veterinarians also take x-rays to check for bronchitis.

Options for Treating Kennel Cough
Most cases of kennel cough resolve on their own without medical intervention, because antibiotics don’t address the viral component of this infection. A healthy dog’s body heals itself naturally with non-toxic support.

During the acute phase of the illness, use a harness to prevent your dog’s collar from aggravating the situation, especially if he tends to pull against the leash on walks. You can also try humidifying the air to help reduce or alleviate coughing spells. Add colloidal silver to a humidifier for any type of bacterial respiratory infection.

Complete recovery from kennel cough can take up to 3 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 his own within about a week, the coughing becomes progressively worse, he develops a fever or stops eating, it’s very important to make an appointment with your veterinarian. If antibiotics are prescribed, always give probiotics during and after administration.
See your vet if you have a puppy with symptoms that go beyond the typical symptoms of kennel cough, such as a change in breathing patterns, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, or a markedly diminished energy level.

There are several excellent natural remedies to speed dogs’ recovery from kennel cough and reduce the severity of symptoms.

Esberitox is a fast-acting echinacea that can be very effective in reducing the virulence of Bordetella infections
Vitamin C is an antiviral and vitamin E provides immune system support

Slippery elm can help soothe sore, irritated throats, as well as Throat Coat tea

Bordetella Vaccines
Many veterinarians recommend Bordetella vaccines, either by injection or by internasal delivery. Many boarding kennels, doggy daycare facilities, groomers and other similar businesses require that dogs be vaccinated for kennel cough. The reason behind this requirement is to remove liability from those businesses. Many veterinary immunologist have stated that Bordetella is an “un-vaccinatable” disease.

The vaccines are generally ineffective and will not prevent your dog from getting kennel cough. The infection is caused by a wide variety of bacterial and viral agents, and no single vaccine can provide protection from them all, nor will the vaccine treat an active infection. In addition, whatever protection the vaccine might offer wears off very quickly, usually in less than a year, which means your pet will need to be revaccinated every six months if you patronize businesses that demand the vaccine.
If necessary for your situation, the nose drop variety is much less toxic. It doesn’t contain the strong adjuvants the injectable version has, and it carries few if any side effects. It’s also important to understand that your dog can still acquire kennel cough infection even if she’s been vaccinated.

Dog-Friendly Walks/Hikes
in the Moab Area

Corona Arch - Easy/Moderate. 1.3 Miles one way. Trailhead is 25 minute drive from Moab.
North on US-191 to Potash Road (Utah 279).

Mill Creek Pathway - Easy. 1.1 Miles. Little to no driving. Starts at the intersection of 100 South and 100 West,
a block off of Main Street.

Portal Overlook - Hard. 2.0 Miles one way. Trailhead is 20 minute drive from Moab.
North on US-191 to Potash Road (Utah 279).

Grandstaff Canyon - Moderate. 2.0 Miles one way. Trailhead is 10-minute drive from Moab.
North on US-191 to the River Road (Utah 128)

MoabBarkery website

Dog Friendly Walks/Hikes in the Moab Area
Trail or Walk Difficulty Length
(one way)
Proximity to Downtown
MillCreek Pathway
easy 1.1 miles Little to no driving
Starts at 100 S & 100 W
Portal Overlook
(trailhead @ Jaycee Park)
Hard 2.0 miles 25 min drive N on US-191 to W on Utah 279 (4.2 miles)
Moab Rim Hard 3.0 miles
(to Hidden Valley trail)
8 minute drive 2.6 miles down Kane Creek Blvd from US-191
Negro Bill Canyon
(aka William Grandstaff Canyon)
Moderate 2.0 miles 10 minute drive N on US-191 to
W on Utah 128, 3 miles
Hunter Canyon Easy 2.0 miles 25 minute drive (mild off-road)
7.5 miles down Kane Creek Blvd from US-191
Corona Arch Trail Easy/Moderate 1.5 miles 25 minute drive N on US-191 to
W Utah 279 (10 miles)
Hidden Valley
(trailhead at end of Angel Rock Rd)
Hard 2.0 miles 10 minute drive S on US-191
3 miles to Angel Rock Rd
Fisher Towers
(trailhead 2.2 miles off Utah 128)
Moderate 2.2 miles 35 minute drive N on US-191 to Utah 128, then 21 miles

Tips for enjoying your time with your dog here in the Moab area:

  • Bring lots of extra water for you and your dog.1 gallon per day for every 60lbs of dog!!
  • Don’t let dogs chase wildlife (especially coyotes, they can lead dogs into an ambush).
  • In the city, dogs are required to be leashed, but on public lands off leash with voice control is allowed.
  • Slickrock and sand is very abrasive!  Check paw pads often, or buy and use booties.
  • If it’s over 85 degrees only consider early AM or late PM hikes, daycare or leave your dog at home.
  • Pack out my poop!  Seriously or the other hikers without dogs will eventually demand no dogs allowed!

To see past articles about animals, pets and their care check our archives.

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