Kennel cough, technically known as infectious tracheo- bronchitis (ITB), is a highly contagious respiratory disease of dogs. The upper part of the trachea becomes infected with a virus, bacteria or combination of both. ITB is considered a nuisance disease causing little to no damage to your dog. The disease usually runs its course in one to three weeks. ITB is not contagious to other pets, such as cats, birds and ferrets.
The primary clinical sign of ITB is a dry, hacking cough. Often infected dogs will gag and cough up some white foam. These dogs usually have good appetites and appear otherwise normal. The coughing is exacerbated by exercise or excitement. Signs are usually worse at night when fluid accumulates in the trachea while your dog is sleeping. The cough is so harsh and loud that no one in the house is able to sleep. Many ITB dogs are seen at emergency clinics after midnight for this very reason.
Treatment includes oral antibiotics, cough suppressants and rest. Rest is an important component of the treatment protocol and cannot be over-emphasized. Dogs with ITB should not run or exercise for at least two to three weeks. Avoid leashes around the neck since this creates pressure on the upper trachea and induces coughing. ITB dogs should be isolated from other dogs in the house because the disease is highly contagious.
Vaccines are available from your veterinarian that can help prevent this respiratory disease. Remember no vaccine is 100 percent. Dogs regularly boarded or on the show circuit should receive a yearly injectable vaccine and biannual intranasal vaccines. The intranasal vaccine promotes immunity in just a few days and is sufficient for dogs that are occasionally boarded. In fact, many kennels prohibit dogs not currently vaccinated against ITB. Overall, however, kennel cough is easily treated and most dogs completely recover in one to three weeks.