Boarding facilities, veterinarians seeing typical spike in kennel cough cases

Kennel owner: 'Once it's there, it spreads pretty fast'

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Eastern Iowa veterinarians and boarding kennel operators say the end of summer brought about a typical spike in kennel cough for dogs.

Though there are a host of canine respiratory diseases known as “kennel cough,” Bordetella bronchiseptica is a common infection that causes small mammals to have a whooping cough. Though Bordetella can affect cats, too, they are less social than dogs so the infection does not spread as easily.

By the second week in September, Susan Oliver, a veterinarian at Animal Kingdom Veterinary Care Center in North Liberty, said the clinic had treated a number of pets that had contracted Bordetella, as had Sarah Gingrich, a veterinarian at Bright Eyes and Bushy Tails in Iowa City. But both veterinarians said they don’t believe the number of cases was any higher than normal.

“Summer is when pet owners are more likely to be taking vacations and placing their pets in boarding facilities, and they are more likely to be outside with their pets in areas where dogs congregate such as dog parks,” Oliver said.

Jim Kelly, co-owner of Lucky Pawz doggy day care and boarding facilities in North Liberty and Iowa City, said he knows how quickly the Bordetella bacteria spreads.

“We have definitely seen an increase within the last few weeks,” Kelly said. “Dogs will eat anything, stick their nose in anything. They’re slobbering, wrestling with each other. Once it’s there, it spreads pretty fast.

“It’s like day care for kids, the more exposure you get, the more likely you are to get it.”

That’s why Kelly has created a system for warning pet owners about possible Bordetella cases and caring for dogs who may have the infection. He has a sign above the front desk with an arrow points to either a green, yellow, orange or red section. The red section tells pet owners that there have been multiple reports and signs of Bordetella symptoms at the facility in the last week.

And dogs in the daily day care program who have Bordetella symptoms are kept in one of the few kennels with concrete sides — so they can’t touch noses with other dogs through a fence. They’re also let out in the yard separately. If a boarded pet exhibits symptoms, the owner and — if necessary, a vet — will be called.

Bordetella Vaccine

There is a Bordetella vaccine most dogs get, but it is only for the most common strain of the bacteria.

Once infected, it typically takes four to 10 days for Bordetella symptoms to show and most cases are resolved by the end of a three-week period, Oliver said.

“Vaccination is not expected to completely eliminate the risk of infection,” she said. “The timing of vaccination is critical — pet owners need to schedule vaccinations at least 1 week before kenneling their pet — pets who are given an injection at their veterinary clinic en route to the kennel will not be fully protected.”

Kelly said pet owners don’t always realize that. In fact, the warning signs above the front desks in his facilities were put up after a customer boarded their pet for one or two nights and thought the dog picked up the infection and showed symptoms immediately.

“Most (customers) understand when we explain it,” Kelly said about the bacterial infections. “But some people do get upset if they feel their dog is protected and we’re the only place their dog comes to, they feel its something we must not be doing to protect them. We try to give our customers a heads up with the sign.”

Kelly said he expects another spike in cases during the holidays when more Eastern Iowans board pets while they travel.


Oliver and Gingrich said it’s important to notice symptoms: a dry, honking cough and lethargy.

Though most cases aren’t serious, it could be harder for puppies and older dogs to fight off the infection without antibiotics, Gingrich said. If the cough begins disrupting a pet’s sleep, owners notice decreased appetite or the animal gags or vomits after severe coughing, Gingrich said it’s a good idea to visit the vet.

If owners notice the symptoms, keep pets away from dog parks, groomers and other facilities with a lot of animals, Gingrich said.

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