Kennel Cough

Dog owners might know the term “Kennel Cough” particularly if they board or groom their dog. It’s not a new disease, but the growing number of cases in the Cedar Valley concerns us. We hope by educating more pet owners on this disease we can start to limit the spread.

Kennel Cough has a full name, Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex or CIRDC for those of you googling.

You can think of Kennel Cough like how humans have a common cold. Both human colds and Kennel Cough are highly contagious, many things cause them, dogs/people may not show symptoms and still be infecting others, they’re spread in many ways, and some of the germs involved can live for months on improperly cleaned surfaces.

It’s easy for a dog to get. And hard to get rid of in the physical environment.

Fortunately, in most cases, your dog won’t become seriously ill. This is great, but he is still contagious and able to easily spread the disease. (Think your co-worker who is hacking and sneezing at work. And you share a cubicle.)

What causes Kennel Cough or CIRDC?

Interestingly, it’s a toxic soup of up to 9 different things. Some are bacteria and some are viruses. As researchers learn more, this list could grow.

Here is what can cause CIRDC (technical term alert!):

  • Bordetellabla bronchiseptica
  • canine parainfluenza virus (CPIV)
  • canine adenovirus type 2 (CAV)
  • canine distemper virus (CDV)
  • canine herpesvirus (CHV)
  • canine influenza virus (CIV)
  • canine respiratory coronavirus (CRCov)
  • Mycoplasma cynos
  • Streptococcus equi (S. zooepidemicus)

Lucky for you, there is no quiz at the end.

Researchers don’t know if it is one pathogen (germ) or a combination that causes Kennel Cough. For example, a 2015 study of 240 dogs found 19% of the sample had more than one of these at the time of testing.

And what makes it even harder for veterinarians, many symptoms of these diseases overlap and are similar (e.g., coughing, sneezing, runny nose).

Testing to isolate which disease is present is possible in some cases. That can be costly to the client and depending on where the dog is in the disease process (early, middle, or late) the test results may not be accurate.

What are Kennel Cough symptoms?

Again, think along the lines of when you get a cold. Runny nose, coughing, trouble breathing, acting lethargic, maybe a fever, and sometimes they have a lower respiratory tract infection.

Here’s what Kennel Cough sounds like.

But not all dogs show symptoms or even get that sick.

That’s the real kicker in how this disease spreads so easily. Dogs can be spreading infection before they show any signs. The 2015 study mentioned earlier focused on dogs showing NO signs or symptoms of Kennel Cough. They did eye and nasal swabs to test what bacteria or viruses were present. Almost half (47.7 percent) of these dogs without symptoms had at least one pathogen for Kennel Cough.

One caveat on symptoms, all dogs can get this. Researchers find it in all ages of dogs and all breeds. However, if you have a puppy or a dog with immune issues or is otherwise not 100 percent healthy, those dogs are more susceptible and may have a more severe go of it.

How does Kennel Cough spread?

puppies playingThe easiest way is through direct contact (think how dogs sniff or groom each other or play).

Sneezing or coughing spreads it through the air. The germy droplets left from a sneeze or cough can remain on surfaces like bowls, fences, walls/floors, collars/leashes, and even the hands or clothes of people handling infected dogs.

These germs may live on surfaces for hours, days, or even months. A big factor in why it is so hard to get rid of this disease.

How long is a dog infectious?close up of dog tongue

This depends on what they have. Sometimes it is 3 weeks, others like Bordetella can be infectious for months. And the window of exposure can vary as well but a good rule of thumb is 5-7 days give or take a few. If your dog has Kennel Cough, we recommend keeping him at home (not having him near other dogs) for 3 weeks from the time of diagnosis.

Can I get it? Can my cat?

In most cases, no to both.

People can contract Bordetella bronchiseptica, but this is extremely rare. If you are immune compromised and your dog has Kennel Cough, discuss this with your medical care provider. We always recommend good hand washing after handling any animal. And maybe lay off the dog kisses for a while.

It is possible for cats to get both Bordetella and the flu, but this isn’t seen very often. If you have a dog with Kennel Cough sharing a home with a cat, keep an eye on your kitty, but you don’t need to isolate them.

How to prevent Kennel Cough?chihuahua at the vet

This is one area where Kennel Cough is different from the human cold. With Kennel Cough, veterinarians can vaccinate your dog to protect against several of the causes.

You may not realize it, but when your dog gets a “distemper” vaccine there is a lot more in the vaccine besides preventing distemper. Most often it will include protection against parainfluenza, adenovirus, herpesvirus and parvovirus. Many of these contribute to Kennel Cough.

We also recommend vaccinating to prevent Bordetella and the canine flu if your dog is boarding or doing any activities outside around other dogs. Our hospital requires all three vaccinations (Distemper, Bordetella, Canine Flu) and a Rabies vaccination for boarding.

Not all dogs need all vaccines. Please discuss your individual situation with your vet. He or she can offer the best advice based on your dog’s lifestyle.

A note on vaccines and Kennel Cough. A 2019 study with over 500 pet dogs in Georgia found only 17 previously vaccinated dogs to have one of these pathogens when tested for CIRDC. Conclusion here, and from other studies in the U.S. and in Europe—vaccines help reduce disease. They are not 100% and there are gaps in delivery. We may get behind on making that vet appointment or skip that second, much needed booster. And not all vaccines are created equal. But in looking at the big picture, vaccines work. They are the best (and easiest and most economical) line of defense we have for our dogs.

What can dog owners do?

women sitting on bench with dogsMake sure you vaccinate your dog especially if you do any dog parks, doggy daycare or boarding. We recommend Distemper, Bordetella, and Canine Flu vaccines for our social dogs.  Keep these up to date, don’t let them become overdue, and don’t forget that the first time your dog gets any new vaccination it will need a booster in 3-4 weeks (the first Rabies vaccination is an exception where that is repeated in one year).

Don’t visit places where your dog will have direct contact with other dogs. (Ugh—what a horribly unpopular thing to say!) It’s not that you can’t visit public places with lots of dogs, but realize the risks. As humans, we do it all the time when we fly, go to urgent care, or send our kids to daycare. Just be mindful and cautious.

If you board, groom or take your dog to a daycare facility inquire as to what vaccines they require. If it’s only Rabies, your dog could be playing with other dogs who are not vaccinated for many of the things causing Kennel Cough.

Ask how they disinfect (spraying disinfectant directly on surfaces, not mopping it on) and how often (at least once daily). Ask what products they use. (We use Rescue, an accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide and/or bleach, but there are several products on the market that will kill many of these agents).

Side note, but critical: it doesn’t matter what you use if you don’t use it properly by following the directions on the label. (What, you haven’t read the back of your kitchen cleaner bottle?!?)

label on back of cleaner

This product needs to sit for 10 minutes

Look for a statement regarding how long the product needs to sit on a surface. This is called “Kill Time” and the bottle should state it. Kill Time refers to the length of time any given disinfectant must be left on a surface to fully kill the germs stated on the label. Go grab a bottle of bleach or Lysol spray—does that 5 or 10 minutes surprise you?

If you think your dog is sick (coughing, runny nose, sneezing) that seems unusual, call your vet. It may be nothing, you may not have to bring your dog in or do any treatment, but still call. If you do bring your dog in and have noticed him having cold symptoms, especially coughing, PLEASE let your vet know before bringing your dog inside the building. Your vet should still see your pet, but may want to do the exam outside. This is to protect other dogs from getting what your dog has. (If only dogs would wear a mask!)

As always, talk with your veterinarian. Kennel Cough isn’t usually serious to your dog, but understanding how it spreads and doing your part will help keep all dogs safer.


Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex

Canine infectious respiratory disease: New insights into the etiology and epidemiology of associated pathogens

Prevalence of canine infectious respiratory pathogens in asymptomatic dogs presented at US animal shelters

Canine Influenza

Understanding how vaccines work (CDC article on human vaccines, but the concepts are similar)