Kennel cough outbreak slowing down, but still not vanquished

Dogs eventually will become immune to this strain, veterinarian says

Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Veterinarians in town report fewer cases of infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as kennel cough or canine cough, in recent weeks. But they said the disease still hasn't run its course here.

"We were seeing five or six a day, and we're certainly not seeing that much now," said Lisa Kramer, a veterinarian with the Southeast Alaskan Veterinary Clinic. "... But it still hasn't dropped down like we thought it would."

Juneau veterinarian Lesley DeKrey, who owns Douglas Island Veterinary Services, first treated dogs with kennel cough-like symptoms, mostly a dry, hacking cough in the throat, in February. The number of pets she saw for the disease peaked in June and has tapered slightly since then.

"Eventually everybody is going to become immune to it, just like everybody gets a cold and eventually becomes immune to that cold," she said.

The disease, often caused by a combination of the bacterium bordetella bronchiseptica and a virus, is "more annoying than life-threatening," said DeKrey.

She's immunized several dogs, including her own, though she said she would be more comfortable with the immunization if veterinarians were sure which virus is causing the disease.

Canine cough can be treated with antibiotics and sometimes cough suppressants, but DeKrey hesitates to prescribe them. She's given antibiotics to three dogs for kennel cough this summer, and only one of those dogs really needed it, she said.

"Every dog that gets a cough and a hack does not need antibiotics any more than any human with a cold needs antibiotics," she said.

Kennel cough is transmitted by airborne pathogens, said Kramer. Dogs will pick up the disease from interacting with each other on trails, passing each other on the street and sharing enclosed spaces with other dogs.

To keep the other pets who visit the Southeast Alaska Veterinary Clinic free of kennel cough, Kramer won't allow potential carriers to be treated in the clinic; instead she visits them in their owners' cars in the clinic's parking lot.

Along with immunizations, owners can prevent their dogs from catching kennel cough through isolation, Kramer said.

Kennel cough is "no more lethal to dogs than a cold is lethal to humans," DeKrey said.

Just as most humans will eventually recover from a cold on their own in a couple of weeks, most dogs will recover from kennel cough in a couple of weeks. But, as with humans, dogs with weak immune systems or older dogs may pick up a different disease while trying to fight kennel cough.

"It can be a tributary to another condition," DeKrey said.

Usually, a disease such as kennel cough will run its course in a community within weeks, Kramer said.

"Usually it's just a couple-week outbreak, maybe three weeks," said Kramer. "This has been here since April, so we're looking at a four-month outbreak."

Kramer attributes the length of the outbreak to the fact that the immunization isn't 100 percent effective.

"This is just a real tough bug," she said.

Christine Schmid can be reached at

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