In people, pertussis is known as "whooping cough," because of the sound made while coughing. It is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. The equivalent in dogs results from exposure to the closely related Bordetella brontiseptica, which causes a condition known as infectious tracheobronchitis. The disease is far better known as "kennel cough," since it generally occurs after dogs spend time at boarding facilities, shelters or other places containing large numbers of canines.
Because Bordetella is so contagious, your dog doesn't have to spend time in a boarding kennel or similar facility to catch it. Infected dogs spew out the bacteria as they cough, and it becomes airborne. Your dog could pick it up from a bowl of water shared at the dog park or at a canine competition, or just from going nose to nose with an infected animal. Dogs exposed to Bordetella start showing symptoms a couple of days to a couple of weeks later.
Dogs suffering from Bordetella don't actually whoop, but they do consistently emit a hacking, honking cough. They might appear to retch while coughing, as if something were stuck in his throat. The noise and coughs are the primary symptoms—otherwise your dog behaves normally, eating and drinking as usual. Severely affected dogs might spike a fever or experience nasal discharge or conjunctivitis. While kennel cough is just a nuisance for otherwise healthy dogs, make sure canines with compromised immune systems, including puppies, receive veterinary attention.
The disease usually runs its course within a couple of weeks. In the meantime, your vet might prescribe a cough suppressant to give your dog some relief. Because kennel cough is so contagious, keep your dog away from others until he recovers. You might want to install a humidifier in the room where he sleeps, which can help soothe his irritated nose and throat. Walk him with a harness rather than a collar until he's better, because you don't want to accidentally pull on his windpipe.
While it's possible to vaccinate your dog against Bordetella, that doesn't mean he's completely protected. However, dogs vaccinated against Bordetella usually have much milder symptoms when they do get infected. Your dog probably received the vaccination as part of his puppy shot series. If you're going on vacation and boarding your dog, or he's about to be exposed to a lot of strange canines for any other reason, ask your vet about giving him a Bordetella booster.
By Jane Meggitt
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.