Bordetella, the scary, infinitely mispronounced canine ailment otherwise known as kennel cough, comes in just like it goes out; quickly and swiftly.
Kennel cough is not unlike the common cold amongst humans, but as most any vet will tell you this upper respiratory infection is classified as a virus and bacterial infection. It causes the trachea & bronchi to become inflamed making for a potentially stuffed-up and coughing doggy. It is also highly contagious, especially among unvaccinated dogs, senior dogs and puppies. Dogs can contract kennel cough from another dog's infected bodily secretions like drinking from the same water bowl or drooling while wrestling with each other. It can also be contracted simply from microscopic droplets coughed into the air by an infected dog and then breathed in by another dog (just like humans transmit the common cold or the flu to each other).
While it can be obvious a dog is ill due to a loud barking cough, lack of appetite, mucus discharge from nose or mouth, goopy eyes etc., at times the infection can go undetected for days while the dog is still spreading the disease. As a matter of fact, silent carriers of kennel cough make it hard to eradicate the disease in today's kennel environment where most dogs interact and play together. By the time it is noticed that a dog is coughing, he might have been a silent carrier for days and already infected many of his playmates. Many owners bring their dogs to dog parks and day cares while the pooch is spreading the illness, not because they are careless, but because they are simply unaware.
The symptoms of kennel cough can be all or some of the following:
Coughing (quiet hardly noticeable coughing or loud barky type coughs)
Gagging/Reverse Sneeze (almost as if they are trying to clear their throat)
Discharge from nose (clear to green)
Loss of appetite
Another reason kennel cough is so difficult to contain is that the virus mutates all the time. This year's vaccinations might not cover all the new strains that have developed in the last 6 months. The most common vaccines only cover against parainfluenza 2, Bordetella bronchiseptica and occasionally canine adenovirus type 2. Vaccines do not cover against any of the other infectious agents that are known to cause or contribute to kennel cough. However, having your dog's kennel cough vaccinations up to date is important because it will protect your dog against the most common strains out there and potentially giving them partial protection against some newly mutated strains.
If your pooch is showing signs of an upper respiratory infection it is always best to bring them to the vet, especially brachycephalic breeds (flat-nosed breeds) like Bulldogs or Boston Terriers who already have a harder time breathing. As stated previously, kennel cough is a coupling of a bacterial infection and a virus, and as we know - there is no "cure" for a virus. Many veterinarians will recommend rest and watching for symptoms like a green or yellow discharge from nose and/or mouth and fever before they prescribe antibiotics hoping the dog's own immune system will clear up the viral infection. However, if the dog develops fever, yellow or green discharge and/or lack of appetite, a vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics to make sure any bacterial complications are eradicated swiftly.
At Eva's Play Pups Countryside Dog Camp, we make sure that all our clients have received a Bordetella vaccination in the last 12 months (according to Pennsylvania law). However, most of our clients actually give their dogs this vaccination every 6 months since they attend doggy daycares in New York City where the Department of Health requires dogs entering daycares and boarding facilities to be given this vaccine every 6 months. Still, there are so many new and mutated strains out there and an outbreak is always possible. The risk is especially high during boarding season like summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas when most boarding kennels and doggy daycares are filled to the brim with dogs while their owners are travelling. Viruses are very opportunistic organisms that rely on population density to spread from individual to individual. If that happens, we know that the outbreak is likely a strain that the most common and current Bordetella vaccinations on the market do not vaccinate against (although we can always hope that it gives partial protection against a new strain and therefore a milder version of the disease.)
We do encounter some cases of kennel cough throughout the year. Interestingly enough, it is common that the dogs falling ill are dogs that do not frequent doggy daycares or boarding facilities. NYC dogs attending such establishments seem to have grown immune to the Bordetella virus. This is most likely from having been exposed to small doses of it for years while playing with their furry friends at daycares and dog parks. However, dogs who are new to the social dog scene, young puppies (under 1 year old) who have not yet developed a strong immune system, older dogs and dogs with compromised immune systems due to disease or stress (perhaps from being away from home) are the most likely to develop kennel cough.
What do we do at our country camp when we encounter kennel cough cases among our boarding guests? We are fortunate to have several buildings away from the main part of the property where we can house a dog with kennel cough symptoms. These building have heat and A/C and are surrounded by beautiful woods and fields and have the 6ft tall and 2ft folded fence just like the main part of the property so that the dog with the cough can still enjoy outdoor fun in the Endless Mountains in a safe space.
We take every client dog to see a veterinarian if we believe they have contracted kennel cough. We then watch the dog closely, administer prescribed medication if necessary and give moderate levels of exercise so that the dog has energy to heal. Running and playing at full speed and swimming is not conducive to ridding the body of a virus. Just list humans, rest, plenty of fluid and nutritious food will do the trick.
Should you notice any signs of kennel cough after your dog has been with us at camp, please let us know at once. It is important we are aware so we can look out for campers still in our care as well as alert campers who played with your dog at camp since they have most likely been exposed to the virus. Keep in mind symptoms such as decreased energy level and decrease in appetite can be a little tricky since all dog owners report a decrease in energy level for 5-6 days after returning from camp and at times also a decrease in appetite (perhaps from being tired.) However, should your dog also have a cough, discharge from nose or mouth etc. it is most likely kennel cough and you should consult your veterinarian to see what actions he/she recommends.
Most importantly, please keep your dog away from other dogs for at least 2 weeks and until coughing is completely gone. At camp we keep any coughing dog isolated for 2 weeks and 4 days after last cough to make sure no other dog is infected. It is also very important you disinfect your hands and clothing after having handled a dog with kennel cough and before touching another dog. It is a very contagious disease.
At camp we still believe in the power of keeping your dog well socialized. In most cases, kennel cough is not worse than the average cold for humans contract and not a reason to isolate your dog from its playmates and fun times in dog parks and daycares. In the long run, a well socialized dog that contracts the occasional kennel cough is better than a dog being kept away from its own kind. Fun times keep us all healthy and happy!