One of my client’s dogs, a shepherd mix named Madison, recently came back from the kennel making horrible gagging sounds. “Oh my God, she’s trying to vomit but can’t! I think she’s bloating!” While well-informed of her large breed dog’s pathological proclivities, this owner had never experienced the dreaded kennel cough (the most likely source of Madison’s current distress).

“But the people at the kennel said they vaccinated her before she was exposed to the other dogs. What happened?”

Though I’m sure Madison received her vaccine as promised, I informed her, no vaccine is 100% effective. Moreover, a prudent amount of time is required for her body to respond to most kennel cough vaccines (usually about two weeks, though some vaccines claim to offer instant immunity). That means the recently administered vaccine may well have been useless against the bacteria contaminating the air around Madison’s kennel space.

Kennel cough is perhaps the single most annoying infectious disease process the average dog owner is likely to face. Anywhere dogs congregate, this Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria seeks to flourish. While shelters, pet shops, boarding kennels, vet hospitals, day cares, grooming parlors and dog parks are the likeliest sources, anywhere dogs get the chance to meet and greet one another is another unwelcome opportunity for transmission.

Kennel cough tends to make its presence known through the characteristic honking/gagging cough Madison presented with. That’s because the offending bacteria attacks the sensitive lining of the trachea and bronchi. Unfortunately, fever and listlessness can also accompany the cough, which can even lead to pneumonia if left untreated, especially in younger, smaller and otherwise more susceptible animals.

Some dogs will even experience a disgusting nasal form of the disease. This manifestation is more likely to produce rivers of whitish-greenish snot (that’s a medical term) than a nasty cough. So however unhappy this owner was with her dog’s illness, I informed her that she should thank her lucky stars—it could always be worse.

Thankfully, kennel cough cases generally respond well to antibiotic therapy. Augmentin and Doxycycline are the most popular drugs for these kinds of upper respiratory infections, but others can do the trick just as well, given the appropriate strain common to the area. Dogs who don’t respond well within a couple of days (or worsen at any point) should head on back to the vet for more diagnostic tests.

This last step is especially important since other diseases can mimic kennel cough expertly. Distemper, Dog Flu and other emerging infectious diseases can cause upper respiratory symptoms in their earliest stages. (Stay tuned to tomorrow morning’s post for some breaking news on this front.)

For these reasons, among so many others, it’s crucial to have your dog evaluated at the first sign of a cough. To that end, I readily informed Madison’s owner that she vaccinate her every six months if she’ll be hitting the kennel on a regular basis. And next time, I cautioned, perhaps she should consider giving the vaccine ahead of time. That, or find a good dog sitter. Considering vet fees for kennel cough and other transmissible maladies, these professionals are worth their weight in gold!