Kennel cough is a very common condition in dogs. People tend to associate it with dogs who either recently have been boarded or kenneled. But your dog does not need to be boarded to catch kennel cough.
Kennel cough is caused by an airborne virus, (parainfluenza) or a Bacteria called Bordetella, which is highly contagious. The Bordetella bacteria reside in almost every dog, however, a good immune system keeps the bacteria under control.
Stress due to an owner change, traveling, or being taken out of its comfort zone, can trigger Bordetella d and results in infectious tracheobronchitis. Any time your dog is in the vicinity of an infected dog, the potential exists for infection. The incubation period is about 4-10 days, meaning your dog will not display symptoms of illness for about 3-10 days following exposure to the virus. Having a strong immune system is the best way to avoid coming down with symptoms when your dog is exposed to the virus. This is why not every dog in the same house will get it if there is an outbreak.
Although there is a vaccine (Bordetella) for Kennel Cough, it is often not effective in preventing infection. The most likely explanation for this is that there are many strains and mutations of the virus out there. Therefore, it is hit or miss whether the vaccine used on your dog will be the right one for the strain with which your dog comes into contact. This is similar to the flu shot for people; each year a vaccine is developed based on which strain is suspected to be most prevalent. Be aware that your dog can still catch Kennel Cough even if it has had a shot to prevent it.
More commonly, an intranasal vaccine containing both parainfluenza and Bordetella is used. Intranasal vaccines create localized immunity that greatly reduces the incidence of clinical signs and illness. There are several precautions and warnings that need to be observed pertaining to this vaccine. Some dogs will develop mild signs similar to tracheobronchitis when given this vaccine. Very often, the symptoms will last for several days and the dog will recover without treatment. Dogs that are vaccinated can also shed the virus and cause other dogs to become mildly infected and show mild signs. This shedding usually lasts less than 72 hours. In addition, it takes up to 4 days after vaccination for dogs to develop protection.
When you combine these facts, you will see why I strongly recommend that a dog not be given intranasal vaccine within 72 hours of coming into contact with other susceptible dogs. Do not give the vaccine the day before a dog show, boarding, etc. Try to give at least four days before contact with other dogs, and preferably 7 days. This way you will protect your dog from becoming infected by other dogs, and protect those dogs from becoming infected by yours. Our experience with this vaccine is that many pups that have had this vaccine, when put in a stressful situation, like a boarding facility, vet visit, road trip, plane ride, owner change, etc. develop kennel cough. The usual symptoms of Kennel Cough include a dry cough. The dog sounds as if there is something stuck or caught in the throat and the coughing is an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge the object. Sometimes the coughing/gagging seems very violent. The episodes of coughing may go on for minutes at a time and then be repeated at intervals. One way you can test for Kennel Cough is to press the throat gently, right in the collar area. If the dog has Kennel Cough, this will probably trigger some coughing. If your dog does develop Kennel Cough symptoms, don’t panic! The way this illness operates is analogous to the common cold that we humans sometimes catch; simply put: it must run its course. The goal is to support the body (immune system) while it is healing itself. Antibiotics are NOT indicated (although they are routinely prescribed and used) because this is a virus, not a bacteria. Antibiotic use is actually thought to slow the healing process. Kennel cough generally will be gone in two weeks time or less, with or without antibiotics (but probably faster without).
‘Kennel Cough,’ now more commonly referred to as ‘infectious tracheobronchitis’ is a widespread disease caused by several different viruses and bacteria. It is usually a self-limiting disease and most animals do not require treatment. Intranasal vaccines are effective, but due to some possible side effects, are recommended for animals that are at higher risk. Infectious tracheobronchitis is a disease of dogs and wild canids, it does not appear to be a risk to healthy humans or cats.
Here are some ideas for natural treatments you may use to treat your dog’s Kennel Cough symptoms. None of these will harm your dog in any way, even if it does not even have Kennel Cough, but you may want to check with your own vet before giving them to your dog.
For boosting the immune system and fighting off infection:
250 mg Vitamin C 3x/day, if you already supplement with vitamin C, great! But this is in addition to the regular daily dose, and is
spaced out during the day.
Echinacea (give a few drops, 3x/day, either directly into the mouth or on food) Goldenseal (same instructions as Echinacea)
Colloidal Silver (Give just a drop or two, 3x/day. May be mixed with food or put into drinking water.)
Bryonia (give 1-2 pellets/tablets 3x/day, allow no food for ten minutes before and after the dose. Most health food stores sell homeopathic remedies in the 6X or 6C potency, which is fine to use. If you have a choice of potencies, ask for 30C, which is a bit stronger. Homeopathy works when the correct remedy is matched to the correct symptoms, regardless of the potency of the remedy.) Drosera (same instructions)
For soothing throat irritation:
Honey (about a teaspoon for a small-med dog, a tablespoon for a larger dog, 3x/day) Eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke. Maintain humidity in the environment. If you have more than one dog in your household, and one of them develops Kennel Cough, you can try to keep that one isolated, to minimize exposure to your other dog(s). However, by the time your dog is symptomatic, the virus has probably already been "shared" with your other pets or any other dogs with which yours has had contact recently. You may wish to treat all of your dogs, as a preventive measure for those that are asymptomatic, to ensure their immune systems are strong enough to ward off infection from the virus. Also, it would be good pet ownership to refrain from taking your ill dog to obedience class, dog shows, or any other dog-related event until s/he has recovered.