Infectious tracheo-bronchitis (“kennel cough”) is a highly contagious respiratory disease of dogs (and sometimes cats.) Most cases are mild, but some progress to severe pneumonia. Tracheitis is caused by as many as twenty-two viruses, often in combination with certain bacteria. Bordatella bronchiseptica bacteria, a parainfluenza-type virus, and two types of adenovirus are the most common disease causing agents.
Kennel cough is transmitted in the same way colds spread between humans. The airborne agents that cause kennel cough spread especially easily from one dog to another in conditions of close confinement, such as those existing at dog shows or in kennels. But dogs can catch tracheitis while in their back yard.
A persistent, dry, hacking cough is the most common complaint. Sometimes discharge from the eyes and nose is present and more severe cases demonstrate inappetance and depression.
Therapy can include antibiotics to control the bacterial component of the infection, anti-tussive medications to relieve the persistent cough, and sometimes steroids to decrease inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Expectorants are sometimes administered to promote discharge of mucus from the pharynx and bronchioles. If left untreated the mild upper respiratory infection of the throat and upper airways can descend and complicate into fulminating pneumonia.
Even with timely and proper treatment the cough can persist for 3 or 4 weeks before the viral component is fully eradicated. Patience is required to wait for the pet’s immune system to combat and eliminate all the viral particles. Antibiotics are helpless against viral infections.
Several effective vaccines are available to prevent this very common respiratory disease. Both the injectable formula and an intra-nasal nose drop provide good protection for up to 90 days. Therefore, the vaccine should technically be boosted four times annually, but most pet owners get the booster every 6 months.
Almost all pets contract tracheitis at least once or twice in their lifetimes.