Kennel cough is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection, that can be caused by a variety of different viruses and bacteria. The kennel cough vaccine available is able to protect against one of the most common sources of kennel cough, but just like with our human influenza vaccine, it cannot cover every strain. Vaccination does not mean complete immunity from every strain. However, the vaccine does allow your dog to mount a better immune response when exposed to a variety or strain of kennel cough and therefore, they typically have milder clinical signs. Any dog exposed to kennel cough may develop a dry, goose-honking cough that can sound at times, like a gagging noise, and in some cases, the coughing results in enough irritation that they will bring up some clear or white foam. This is expected following exposure.
Each year around the spring and the fall, we will see an influx of both vaccinated and non-vaccinated dogs that are being diagnosed with kennel cough, as this is a very social season for our pets: visiting dog parks, dog beaches, boarding facilities and places where there is more chance of contact and possible exposure. Exposure can come from nose to nose contact, sharing toys or even communal water dishes. After exposure, it can take up to two weeks for your dog to start showing clinical signs such as coughing, which can last for about 7-10 days. As long as your dog is bright and happily eating and drinking with no signs of lethargy, the virus will run its course with no further assistance needed. If your dog begins to show signs of lethargy or inappetence, they should be seen by a veterinary professional.
If you think your dog has been exposed to kennel cough or was diagnosed but no longer coughing, it is recommended not to take your dog around other dogs for three weeks as they could still be contagious to other dogs.
Written by Dr. Tara MacKay, DVM