What are Infectious Tracheobronchitis?
Infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as “Kennel Cough”, is the most common upper respiratory issue in dogs in the United States. Highly contagious, it is typically a self-limiting disease that is caused by several viruses and bacteria. The illness can be relatively mild or more severe. Fortunately, the majority of animals that develop it do not require treatment and vaccination is available and effective. A high percentage of dogs will experience this illness at some point in the course of their lives.
Also known as “Kennel Cough”, infectious tracheobronchitis is a contagious illness in dogs that is caused by multiple viruses and bacteria.
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Symptoms of Infectious Tracheobronchitis in Dogs
Should your dog develop infectious tracheobronchitis, a dry, hacking cough (described by some as a “honking” sound) that is sometimes accompanied by retching is the most common symptom. You may notice that your dog has a watery discharge coming from his nose. Should he be experiencing a mild case, he will continue to eat and remain alert and active. Should the case be more serious, you may see the following in your dog:
- Productive cough
- Loss of appetite
- Possible development of pneumonia
Severe cases are typically only seen in dogs with a compromised immune system or puppies who have not yet been vaccinated. The severity of your dog’s symptoms will typically decrease during the first five days of his illness, however disease can persist for up to 20 days.
Your dog may experience a mild or severe case of infectious tracheobronchitis. In the mild form, your dog will have a recurrent cough, however, will continue to have a good appetite and be alert. In the more severe form of the disease, your dog will have a fever, lose his appetite and possibly experience pneumonia.
Causes of Infectious Tracheobronchitis in Dogs
Many infectious agents can cause infectious tracheobronchitis. The most likely culprits are the parainfluenza virus, Bordatella brochiseptica and mycoplasma. Other possibilities include:
- Canine adenovirus type 2
- Canine herpes virus
Most of the cases of the disease are due to more than one organism. Symptoms of infection will typically occur within 2-14 days of your dog’s exposure. Once the infection has been resolved, your dog will eliminate the bacteria for six to 14 weeks, meaning that he can spread the disease to other animals during that time period. The disease will spread rapidly among dogs that are in close quarters (like a kennel or hospital).
Diagnosis of Infectious Tracheobronchitis in Dogs
Should you notice that your dog has developed a dry, hacking cough or any other symptoms, it is a good idea to take him to the veterinarian to see if treatment is necessary. Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination of your dog and ask you what symptoms you have noticed and for how long they have been present. In addition, your veterinarian will likely ask about any recent exposure to other dogs who may have had infectious tracheobronchitis.
Depending on the physical exam, your veterinarian may choose to conduct bacterial cultures and blood work which will help to confirm individual elements of the disease. As symptoms are usually pretty clear, these tests are often not done. Should your veterinarian be concerned about the severity of the disease or want to rule out other causes of your dog’s cough, a thoracic radiography may be conducted.
Treatment of Infectious Tracheobronchitis in Dogs
Should your dog develop infectious tracheobronchitis, there are two treatment possibilities. Which is the best option will depend on the severity of your dog’s illness. Should your dog be experiencing the mild, uncomplicated form of the illness, which is most common, antibiotics will likely not be recommended. In the mild form, your dog will still have a decent appetite and be alert, but will have a recurrent cough. Antibiotics are typically not prescribed when your dog is experiencing the mild form of the illness and if they are, they will not decrease the length of time that your dog will be able to spread the infection. Prednisone may be given to help with your dog’s cough, along with a bronchodilator or cough suppressant.
In more serious cases of infectious tracheobronchitis, where your dog has a fever, is not eating or is showing signs of pneumonia, antibiotics will likely be recommended. Most common is tetracycline, or trimethoprim-sulfa. Other options are also available, though steroids and cough suppressants are usually not recommended; with steroids your dog’s immune system can be suppressed and a cough suppressant could cause your dog to not clear his fluid or mucus as necessary. Bronchodilators and aerosol therapy may be used. It is important to work with your veterinarian as pneumonia can be life threatening without prompt and proper treatment.
Recovery of Infectious Tracheobronchitis in Dogs
Should your dog acquire infectious tracheobronchitis, you will want to do your best to reduce his stress and ensure he gets proper nutrition in order to prevent him from relapsing while he recovers. You will also want to ensure your dog has good hygiene.
It is a good idea to vaccinate your dog so that he can be protected against some of the agents that cause infectious tracheobronchitis. While your dog may still contract the disease when vaccinated, having been vaccinated will typically reduce its severity.
Infectious Tracheobronchitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My newly adopted puppy has Kennel Cough, I'm pretty sure. I can't get her to the vet for another 4 days... what can I do at home to help ease her discomfort until then?
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