Bordetella vs. 

Kennel Cough 

256-405-4261

A Message From Our Veterinarian 

Dr. Dan Cauldwell 

Piper’s Playhouse in Anniston, Alabama has been in the dog business long enough, and we have come across a few cases of kennel cough. Although there has been no outbreak for a long time, it can spread fast as soon as it hits–just like a cold or flu in an elementary school. It can be challenging to contain the disease, but with the right biosecurity tactics, the spread can be minimized.


As the veterinarian for Global K9 Protection Group, I admit that the phrase “kennel cough” minimizes the complexity of the actual disease. I guess this is the reason why many veterinarians and researchers have started using the phrase “canine infectious respiratory disease complex” to refer to any dog respiratory infection. This nomenclature provides a much better glimpse at what is behind the name.


Because of its prevalence, researchers have spent a lot of time and energy figuring out what is the root of this disease. When your dog receives a “kennel cough” vaccine, the immunization usually covers Bordetella bacteria, adenovirus, and parainfluenza. Surprisingly, new research has shown that maybe Bordetella might not be the primary culprit of this respiratory disease complex like we previously thought.


Listed below is a summary of the pathogens that veterinarians currently include in the “kennel cough” family:


  • Bacteria: Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma spp., and Streptococcus zooepidemicus
  • Viruses: Respiratory Coronavirus, Distemper, Parainfluenza, Adenovirus, Canine Herpesvirus, and Canine Influenza Virus.

Furthermore, there is emerging evidence that there are additional viruses that we might start adding to the list very soon. The challenge now for the veterinary staff is to determine how to approach a case of respiratory disease, whether it is just in one dog or in an entire kennel facility.


As bacteria become more resistant to antibiotics, veterinarians are faced with a tough choice of whether or not to use antibiotics. Respiratory infection can have a viral etiology and antibiotics will not actually help. This is a difficult decision for a veterinarian to make unless there is a verified laboratory diagnosis, which is often expensive and has a multiday turnaround time to get results.


What makes a treatment decision even more difficult is that the color and consistency of respiratory mucus is not always the best predictor of the type of an infection. Despite this, dogs in a kennel environment are often co-infected with two or more pathogens. In cases where the dog is very symptomatic, it would be then reasonable to prescribe antibiotics.


Meanwhile, additional medications, such as anti-inflammatories, cough suppressants, and/or bronchodilators (opens the airways) can sometimes be beneficial to help the dog feel better and possibly recover faster.


Despite the challenge of diagnosing and treating a dog, taking care of the facility is an entirely different beast. If the outbreak occurs in a kennel, consider all the dogs exposed until proven otherwise.


The incubation period before symptoms appear can be anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Keep in mind that some of the pathogens in the respiratory disease complex can be shed in respiratory secretions for several weeks after the initial signs of sickness, so impeccable biosecurity is imperative at all times. A few examples of high-quality biosecurity include the following:

  • Select and use disinfectant properly.
  • Quarantine the sick dogs.
  • Keep all new dogs arriving at your kennel separate from the rest of the pack for a few days to watch for a sickness that might have been incubating.
  • Make sure all the dogs have up-to-date vaccinations.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used by all staff members interacting with sick dogs to minimize the spread of any diseases.
  • Limit the number of staff members who care for the sick animals.
  • There must be different bowls and bowl washing areas.
  • Design ventilations appropriately to prevent the sharing of contaminated air. There must be also exhaust fans to remove the 
    contaminated air.

Even if all of these measures are practiced, it is still possible for a respiratory disease to show up from time to time. Unfortunately, every single pathogen on the list above is capable of being spread by the dog before it shows any signs of illness. Even the most immaculate facilities will see a case or two on occasion.


Developing a disease is inevitable because, at the end of the day, dogs are living creatures that get sick every now and then. When you dog gets sick, allow it to rest, take medicine, and love it even more.

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