By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – Gallatin Valley veterinarians are reporting numerous outbreaks of a contagious canine upper respiratory infection known as kennel cough. The infection, which presents as a persistent cough in dogs, has kept veterinarians busy throughout June and July.

“We probably get four to eight cases a day just in our clinic,” said veterinarian Loni Odenbeck, co-owner of 360 Pet Medical in Bozeman. As of July 28, there have been at least three confirmed deaths in Gallatin Valley as a result of this kennel cough outbreak, Odenbeck said.

Symptoms of the disease include a variable cough, with or without production, which often progresses to the point of vomiting. Some dogs may also experience lethargy and a lack of appetite. Untreated, some dogs may develop pneumonia or pleural effusion, where blood or lymph builds around the lung. These conditions can result in hospitalization and even death. “Some of these [dogs] are going from a mild cough to pneumonia in 24 hours,” Odenbeck said.

360 Pet Medical recommends pet owners avoid dog parks, boarding or grooming facilities, doggy day care, and any other high-density dog population areas. Once diagnosed with kennel cough, an infected dog should immediately be isolated from other dogs and isolation should continue two weeks past when symptoms resolve.

“Fortunately most of the dogs are getting through [the infection] quite well,” Odenbeck said. With proper care, such as cough suppressants and rest, dogs are able to recover without difficulty. But should the sickness develop into pneumonia, dogs must be hospitalized and treated with intravenous fluids, antibiotics and oxygen therapy.

“Kennel cough mostly is a general term for an upper respiratory infection,” Odenbeck said. “It can be [caused by] any one of multiple pathogens.” One of the most common causes of kennel cough is the bacteria bordetella and a vaccine is available to prevent the kennel cough infection caused by this agent. However, Odenbeck says many of the dogs getting the disease right now are vaccinated for bordetella.

In order to identify and understand the cause of the recent outbreak, a number of Gallatin Valley veterinarian clinics haves tested for known pathogens, and bordetella does not appear to be responsible for the current outbreak, Odenbeck says. “We suspect it could be a new virus.” 

360 Pet Medical has been working with the national diagnostic testing center Idexx Laboratories to isolate the pathogen causing the recent outbreaks in Gallatin Valley, however Odenbeck says it could take several months before there is a conclusive finding.