Chatham Animal Rescue and Education, Inc.


"Kennel Cough" is a highly contagious disease that is prevalent in domestic dogs and wild canids worldwide. It does not appear to be a significant health risk to humans or cats at this time. Up until recently, the term was applied to most upper respiratory conditions in dogs in the United States. Nowadays, the condition is known as tracheobronchitis, canine infectious tracheobronchitis, Bordetellosis, or Bordetella.

Most cases of kennel cough are not serious, and will run their course on their own within two weeks. However, in some cases dogs can develop life-threatening complications. Therefore, it is wise to take precautions to prevent your pet from contracting this disease.


Most cases of kennel cough occur in dogs who are in close contact with many other dogs. These dogs include those who attend dog shows, are boarded, or are housed in shelters or kennels.

Several different viruses and airborne bacteria cause kennel cough. The most common are parainfluenza, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and mycoplasma. It is possible that canine adenovirus, reovirus, and canine herpes virus may also contribute. In most cases of kennel cough, the disease is multifaceted and will include a combination of bacterial and viral agents.

The most common viral pathogen in kennel cough cases is parainfluenza. Most "DHLPP" 5-way vaccines, which dogs should receive annually, will offer some protection against this virus. The most common bacteria isolated is Bordetella bronchiseptica. There is an intranasal vaccine that is generally effective in warding off these bacteria, which should be given semi-annually to dogs at risk. Parainfluenza and Bordetella usually appear together in infectious tracheobronchitis.


Normally, symptoms of kennel cough will develop within a week after a dog has been exposed. The most common symptoms are a dry, hacking cough followed by retching, and coughing up a white foamy discharge. The cough is brought on by an inflammation of the trachea (windpipe) and bronchi (the air passages to the lungs). Some dogs also develop conjunctivitis ("pink eye"), rhinitis (inflamed nasal mucous membrane), and a nasal discharge.

In mild cases, dogs will be alert and continue to eat normally. In more severe cases, a dog can become feverish, depressed, lethargic, expel a thick yellow or green nasal discharge, and possibly even develop pneumonia. Some very severe cases are fatal.

If you suspect your dog has kennel cough, isolate the affected animal from all other dogs, and contact your veterinarian immediately! Kennel cough spreads easily and quickly from dog-to-dog through the air. Keep all food and water bowls, and toys separated. Additionally, some pathogens that cause kennel cough can be transmitted from dog to dog via fomites (clothes, shoes, etc.). If you think one of your dogs has kennel cough, wash yourself and your clothes, and disinfect your shoes before you come into contact with your healthy dogs.


It is not difficult for a competent veterinarian to diagnose kennel cough based on a dog's symptoms and recent exposure to other dogs. Normally, the veterinarian will apply pressure to the dog's trachea. This almost always provokes the typical dry, hacking cough. If your animal exhibits severe symptoms, your veterinarian may perform more in-depth tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), a bacterial culture, or a chest x-ray.

If your dog has contracted an uncomplicated case of kennel cough, your veterinarian will probably prescribe antibiotics. The uncomplicated form of the disease usually lasts for approximately ten days. Complicated kennel cough, usually a combination of virus and bacteria, should always be treated with antibiotics and may last14-20 days. Some common antibiotics prescribed are Clavamox and Doxycycline. In more severe cases, Baytril (enrofloxacin) and a relatively new antibiotic, azithromycin, are usually effective. Your veterinarian may also recommend the use of an over-the-counter cough suppressant or a bronchodilator (aminophylline).


The best prevention is not to expose your dogs to other dogs, especially if they are puppies or have other illnesses. However, dog socialization is frequently necessary and can also be beneficial for your dog. The intranasal kennel cough vaccine is recommended twice a year for all dogs that attend shows, or are boarded. The vaccine provides immunization within 72 hours. If you know your dog will be in contact with several other dogs, it is best to have the dog vaccinated a week prior to their exposure.

Vaccination alone cannot protect your animal from contracting this disease. There is always some risk if you show or board your dog, or if your dog comes into contact with strays. Your best weapon against kennel cough may be your own knowledge of the disease! ps


Bodewes, DVM, R. Foster & Smith, Drs, Inc., Veterinary Services Department Ettinger, S. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Saunders, Philadelphia PA; 1989

Greene, C. Infectious Disease of the Dog and Cat. Saunders, Philadelphia PA; 1998

Meenen, K., University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Urbana IL; 1995 Foster, R.; Smith, M. What's the Diagnosis. Macmillan, New York, NY; 1996



Until recently, I thought kennel cough was a nasty little cough Fido could catch when Mom and Dad dropped him off at Poochy Parlor Inn on their way to the beach. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way, that kennel cough is a good deal more.

Earlier this year, I rescued precious little Delilah from the Chatham County Animal Shelter to become her foster mom. Delilah had a slight cough. Dr. Bonnie Terll, at Hill Creek Veterinary Hospital, advised me to isolate Delilah from my dogs for 10 days. After twenty-four hours, it became unbearable. I couldn't leave poor Delilah all alone just because she had a little cough. So I ignored Dr. Bonnie's advice. After all, my six dogs were extremely healthy pups. They never got Delilah's cough!

It was not long until Delilah found a good home, and I was off to the shelter to rescue another dog. This time I took out 2 dogs, a big handsome guy and a cute little pup. Nikita and Martina were coughing too. Once again, Dr. Bonnie urged me to isolate them from my dogs. My next decision now ranks in my top 20 "worst decisions of all time".

That's when the nightmare began. Within days, my sibling boys, Kyle and Clyde, were hacking like mad. I immediately rushed the other 4 to Dr. Bonnie for their bordetella vaccine. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. The next day, my beautiful Brittany caught the disease. Her sister, sweet Amy, fell victim one day later. Miraculously, my big girl Kelly and party-boy Milo never got ill. They were the only two who weren't on antibiotics, twice daily.

Ten days later, my dogs were still sick when I rescued Kobe from the shelter. He, too, was coughing, but why not add one more sick kid to the crew? After almost two weeks in a house filled with suffering dogs, Kobe lost his appetite. The next day, he started oozing thick, green mucous from his nose. I took his temperature, and was alarmed by the 104.2-degree reading. (A normal dog's body temperature is 101.5 degrees). Hill Creek had closed for the day, but I was fortunate to catch Dr. Bonnie at a meeting being held at the clinic. Dr. Bonnie administered fluids and an antibiotic injection to my very sick Kobe.

One by one, all four of my infected dogs succumbed to this second phase of the disease. The antibiotic used was not very effective on this strain. Dr. Bonnie put Kobe on Baytril, which for his size, cost $49.50 for a ten-day supply. For the next two weeks, my heart broke as I watched these dogs suffer. They had little or no appetite, were feverish, and lethargic. Let's not forget that there was green mucous flowing everywhere! What started as a nasty little cough had escalated into a very serious respiratory disease. I placed my dogs' lives in a very precarious and life-threatening situation. It was Dr. Bonnie's superior veterinary skills and constant monitoring of the situation that enabled them to recover.

After six weeks, the crisis is subsiding at my house, with all dogs on their way to recovery. My relief is clouded by "Kennel Cough II: The Sequel" or "Nightmare on Wasileski Way". Katie and Ski's 5 dogs and 4 fosters have all contracted the disease. Fortunately, we all have more experience and know how to attack this illness. Hopefully, Katie and Ski's ordeal will be shorter and less traumatic.

I have learned quite a bit from this experience, and not only about kennel cough disease. I have learned how important it is to listen to your veterinarian: It is knowledge and experience, which guides them. Mark my words, the next time Dr. Bonnie gives me her expert advice, I will be listening with both ears!!!

The financial and, more importantly, the emotional costs of this disease have taken on huge toll on Jerry and I. I would like to express my utmost gratitude and appreciation to Dr. Bonnie and the Hill Creek staff, and to all my friends at CARE for their ongoing professional, moral and financial support.

Editor's note: The Chatham County Animal Shelter is working vigorously to eradicate this disease from the shelter. Please do not be discouraged to rescue an animal. Any animal taken from a shelter should receive full veterinary treatment before exposure to other animals. In most cases, your veterinarian will advise you to keep the dog isolated from other animals for ten days.