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What is “kennel cough” and how can I protect my pet from it?

“Kennel cough” is an old term that refers to a complex of respiratory diseases that is   more properly identified as canine infectious respiratory disease or CIRD. Any one or more of a number of viruses, mycoplasmas and bacteria can cause CIRD.  The symptoms of this disease complex are a pronounced hacking cough sometimes accompanied by a mucoid nasal discharge with sneezing and a mild to severe fever.

CIRD is caused by infection with one or more of the following pathogens:  mycoplasmas, a bacterial organism named Bordetella bronchiseptica, and the viruses known as corona virus, adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, distemper virus, and influenza virus.  All of these infectious agents are contagious and are spread by aerosol from one dog to another especially those in close contact with each other as in boarding kennels, grooming parlors, dog parks, etc.  The incubation periods after exposure vary from several days to as long as several weeks.  Fortunately, the mortality rate (except for distemper) is relatively low but the cough is uncomfortable for the patient and annoying to the caretaker.  CIRD of any cause can sometimes lead to a life-threatening pneumonia that requires antibiotic and respiratory therapy.

The old adage that “prevention is the best medicine” applies in this situation.  Fortunately, there are vaccines available to protect your pet against CIRD.  The so called “core” vaccines are those that are recommended for all dogs and include those vaccines that protect against distemper, adenovirus, and parainfluenza virus.  These vaccines are given by injection, oral, or intra-nasal methods.  The “non-core” vaccines include canine influenza and Bordetella vaccines.  In general, the non-core vaccines are given to those dogs that are exposed to specific situations related to geography and exposure to groups of dogs.  It is best to check with your veterinarian as to which of these vaccines are appropriate for your dog and your situation.

John DeVries

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