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Kennel Cough (Infectious Tracheobronchitis) and Canine Influenza Virus

Katie Halfen DVM

Kennel cough and canine influenza virus (H3N8) are two very common infectious
diseases in dogs and ones that have been a hot topic lately in the dog world. We have
seen a number of suspected kennel cough cases recently at the veterinary clinic I work at
over the past several months. These cases occur from boarding kennels, doggie day care
and dog shows. There were several reports in the fall of 2009 for canine influenza in the
New J ersey and New York area and more recently in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I
wanted to give everyone a little background on each and how to tell the difference, or if
you even need to.

Kennel cough has been around for a long time while Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) has
been around since 2004. Both of these diseases can occur year round and can be
compared to the human flu in some aspects. Both diseases are highly contagious and
transmitted by dog to dog contact through respiratory secretions (coughing, sneezing,
nasal drips), contaminated items (bowls, collars, leashes, cages, and even on human
hands and clothing). Neither of these are spread to people readily, but the swine flu
(H1N1) was found to be passed to pets from their infected owners.

Kennel cough can be caused by a variety of agents, there are several strains at any given
time and these strains can change, similar to the human flu virus. Kennel cough can be
caused by any or multiple of the following: parainfluenza (virus), bordetella
bronchiseptica (bacteria), mycoplasma (bacteria), canine adenovirus type 2, reovirus, and
canine herpes virus (all viruses). CIV is caused by a single strain of an influenza virus
that mutated from an equine influenza virus first discovered in 2004 in racing greyhounds
in Florida.

The incubation period for CIV is 2-5 days and this is when most dogs are contagious
(before they show ANY signs). The incubation period for kennel cough is 2-14 days and
again this is when most dogs are spreading the disease to other dogs unknowingly to their
owners. Up to 20-25% of dogs infected with CIV show no signs, but act as
asymptomatic carriers that spread the disease. A similar percentage of carries is
suspected in dogs with kennel cough. Once sick, the affected dogs shed the virus for 7-
10 days.

Both diseases usually cause an upper respiratory infection and affect the sinus and
trachea areas. Clinical signs for both diseases are similar and include coughing, nasal
discharge, lethargy, decreased appetite, mild fever and possible pneumonia. The cough
can last 10-21 days in CIV and usually 10 days for kennel cough infections. Kennel
cough tends to produce more of a dry honking goose-like cough and retching noises and
this cough can be elicited by palpating the dogs trachea (windpipe). CIV can cause nasal
discharge and a low grade fever. Both diseases can progress to pneumonia, symptoms
include: high fever (above 104), increased respiratory rate and effort (difficulty
breathing), and can cause death, so see your veterinarian if your dog has any of these
symptoms. CIV can cause nasal discharge and a low grade fever.

To diagnose whether your dog has kennel cough or CIV a culture would need to be taken
of the pharyngeal (throat) area or the nasal cavity and is sent to Cornell University for
PCR testing. However, most people would not bother getting a definitive diagnosis
because both diseases are treated the same way. Treatment includes supportive care,
cough suppressants, antibiotics to prevent/treat secondary infections, and hospitalization
if pneumonia occurs. The most severe cases in both diseases occur in very young, very
old, immunocompromised animals, and Brachycephalic dogs (pugs, Boston terriers,
bulldogs, etc.). The fatality rate from CIV is estimated to be between 1-5% and is
probably similar or lower for kennel cough.

Prevention occurs both through cleanliness and through vaccination. These viruses and
bacteria are easily killed with most disinfectants including bleach and ammonia products.
Practicing good cleanliness can prevent infection by washing hands, bowls, kennels, etc.
Vaccinations are available for both diseases. The distemper vaccine that dogs typically
receive yearly or every 3 years (depending on the protocol used), includes protection
against parainfluenza (one of the viruses that cause kennel cough). The bordetella
vaccine protects against the bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica. The canine influenza
virus vaccine (H3N8) was released in May 2009 and protects against only the canine
influenza virus. None of these vaccines offer 100% protection and are considered about
as effective as the human influenza vaccine. Sometimes you get good protection, if you
have the right strains in the vaccine, but other times you can get sick. Both the CIV and
kennel cough vaccines lessen the signs of an infection and decrease the spreading of the
infection to other animals. There is some benefit from the vaccine-it can make your dog
have less symptoms, not become severely affected (ie. pneumonia) and sometimes the
vaccine prevents infection altogether.

There are two different types of vaccines available for kennel cough-the intranasal
vaccine and the injectable vaccine. The intranasal vaccine is often considered the
better vaccine and this for a few reasons-it usually includes both bordetella and
parainfluenza, it only requires one dose, and protection begins in 4-7 days from receiving
the vaccination. The intranasal vaccine stimulates protection at the mucous membranes
of the nose which is where the virus/bacteria sets up to create the infection, so the
protection is more immediate. The injectable vaccine needs two doses 3-4 weeks apart
and offers protection in 1-2 weeks after the second injection. All vaccines for kennel
cough and for CIV require yearly boosters.

Should your dog be vaccinated? If your dog does any high risk activities it should be
vaccinated for both kennel cough and CIV. High risk activities include, but are not
limited to: groomers, boarding, dog parks, dog daycares, pet stores, large kennels, dog
performance events or shows, areas with large amounts of other dogs, veterinary clinics,
traveling-flying or shipping animals.

More information on CIV can be found through the AVMA at: