I never realized how complex, contagious, and potentially dangerous kennel cough is, until I adopted two friendly mutts from a rescue shelter. Within days of moving from the city to our new rural home, Alfie developed a scary cough, while his constant companion Benny showed no signs of the problem.
Kennel cough is not a cut-and-dried term, like chickenpox or rubella. It’s caused by a number of different viruses or bacteria, or a combination of any of the following: canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus 2, canine distemper virus, and/or bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. In medical terms, it is known as infectious tracheobronchitis or Bordatella. It affects the upper respiratory tract – throat, larynx and lungs, and is extremely contagious.
I had no medical history whatsoever for either of my two new dogs – I didn’t even know how old they were exactly, just that they’d been separately abandoned to the shelter, and had occupied adjacent cages for nearly two weeks.
Luckily one of the first people I encountered when I moved to the country was the local vet, and when he started Alfie’s treatment, he was happy to explain about kennel cough medication. Alfie is otherwise a strong, happy, and healthy dog, but the vet also explained that older dogs and puppies could get serious complications from Bordetella as he always called it – and in those cases it would be necessary to use an antibiotic treatment for kennel cough in dogs. He said he mostly used doxycycline. If that didn’t help, there were other antibiotics he could use in injection form, or via a nasal spray.
Still worried that my other dog Benny would come down with the disease, I asked how long is kennel cough contagious after starting antibiotics. He said it would depend on whether the kennel cough was caused by a bacteria or a virus. An antibiotic such as doxycycline could treat a bacterial infection within a few days, but the chances were that Alfie had a bacteria and a virus, and the latter was more difficult to deal with.
The prognosis was good, and he said that Alfie would be over his problem within three weeks with the right kennel cough meds. He took x-rays of Alfie’s lungs, and after drawing blood he would run some cultures and viral isolations. We couldn’t be too careful because of Alfie’s lack of medical history. He also explained that in older dogs and puppies Bordetella could be extremely dangerous without the correct care and kennel cough medicine. There was always a danger of pneumonia, and in some cases, the dog would have to be isolated for a 6-8 weeks.
I was to keep Alfie and Bennie separated for at least 3 weeks, keep them both under close observation, and be sure to administer the meds without fail. That meant double walks for me and the other problem was getting Alfie to eat, because he’d definitely lost his appetite.
He still loved to go for walks despite being sick, and I mentioned that his collar seemed to make his coughing worse. The vet suggested I used a harness rather than a collar to take pressure off Alfie’s neck, and within a couple of days, there was a remarkable improvement in his health.
He also recommended I bring Bennie in for a vaccination and after a thorough examination, he agreed that he had no signs of kennel cough at all, perhaps he’d had the vaccination, but there was no way of telling.
With the doxycycline and some other meds Alfie was better than ever, although keeping him separated from his chum Bennie for a week was difficult. The two barked to each other through brick walls and windows and nearly drove me nuts, but now they’re the happiest, healthiest playmates, that keep me active and healthy too.