A page about canine infectious tracheobronchitis (also known as canine cough or kennel cough), which describes the causes, clinical signs, diagnosis and control.
Canine infectious tracheobronchitis, more commonly known as kennel cough or canine cough, is a highly contagious multifactorial disease of a dog’s respiratory tract. It occurs where dogs are in close contact with each other – boarding kennels, rescue centres, shows, etc. However, dogs can also contract the disease by contact with other dogs while out for a walk etc.
The pathogens listed below are the main causes of canine cough. However, there are other viruses and bacteria which may contribute to the canine cough complex.
Bordetella bronchiseptica (Bb)
The most common cause of canine cough and from the same family as Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough in humans), Bb causes disease in a wide range of host species, including cats (where it is one of the causes of cat ‘flu), pigs, rabbits and horses. Bb can infect other species commonly kept in contact with dogs and therefore inter-species transmission is possible in particular between dogs and cats. Bb can be shed for up to four months post infection.
Canine parainfluenza virus (CPi)
Often found together with Bordetella bronchiseptica (Bb), CPi is present in mouth and nose secretions for up to two weeks post-infection. CPi alone can cause a mild cough and runny nose. However, the severity and duration of clinical signs are worse if CPi is in combination with Bb.
Canine adenovirus 1 and 2 (CAV-1 and CAV-2)
These two viruses are very similar, with CAV-1 the cause of infectious canine hepatitis and CAV-2 the cause of respiratory disease.
Canine herpesvirus (CHV)
Similar to herpes simplex (cold sores) and feline herpesvirus (cat ‘flu), CHV only infects canine species. Pups can be infected in the womb, or immediately after birth from the dam. In latent carriers the virus may be re-activated after stress. In puppies less than two weeks of age, it presents as ‘fading puppy syndrome’. Over two weeks of age and in adults, symptoms are usually mild respiratory signs of nasal discharge and coughing. Genital lesions may also be present.
All dogs are at risk if they are in close contact with other dogs. With a high morbidity rate, clinical signs of canine cough can be more severe in puppies, older dogs or debilitated individuals, including fatal bronchopneumonia. Any dog which comes into contact with other dogs is at risk. The disease is also not restricted to dogs; other species can become infected.
Canine infectious tracheobronchitis is transmitted by coughing, sneezing or nose-to-nose contact. The disease can spread rapidly and can last up to six weeks.
Clinical signs include a harsh dry cough, which may cause retching; tiredness, loss of appetite and a mildly raised temperature. The illness can persist for weeks. Very occasionally, the disease can progress to pneumonia.
Swabs from the nose or throat and washings from the trachea and lower respiratory tract can be used for identification of the causative agent. Blood samples may be taken for serology for some of the common viruses (Pi, CAV).
Vaccination is obviously the best and easiest way to protect dogs against canine cough, especially for dogs kept together in close proximity who are especially at risk. There is now an easy-to-administer intranasal vaccine available that mirrors the natural route of infection and protects for a full 12 months. It can be given to dogs of any shape, size and age (>3 weeks old), giving protection in just 72 hours. It is safe to use in puppies as young as three weeks of age and in pregnant bitches. The vaccine may only be prescribed by your veterinary practitioner from whom advice must be sought. For further information on this disease and vaccination please click here.
Other preventative measures include adequate hygiene and ventilation, preventing contact between animals, isolation of affected dogs and avoiding contact with cats.
Treatment of clinical cases – Cough suppressants can help relieve symptoms. Antibacterials can also be used to help alleviate clinical disease but may not be able to eliminate infection.