Severe kennel cough cases on the rise in Denver metro

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (KDVR) — Local veterinarians are warning pet owners about a potentially deadly strain of kennel cough spreading throughout the Denver metro area. 

VCA Highlands Ranch Animal Specialty and Emergency Center sent an email to clients on Monday addressing a rise in canine respiratory diseases most commonly known as kennel cough.

The first symptom of kennel cough is a dry, hacking cough. It is sometimes described as a noise similar to a goose honk. 

“Every year we do see it around this time usually. But this year, the kennel cough complex is very severe,” Dr. Danielle Williams said. 

Williams is the critical care veterinary specialist at VCA Highlands Ranch. She is responsible for cases involving the sickest pets. She said severe kennel cough cases started to become more prevalent in July and have sharply increased in August. 

“I’ve seen at least 20 cases in the last two weeks,” Williams said. “Young healthy dogs are literally getting terrible pneumonia, and we’re trying to pull them back from the brink of death.”

Kennel cough is a broad term for a respiratory infection caused by a range of viruses or bacteria. It is extremely contagious and can be spread by dogs coming in close contact with each other or by sharing water bowls and toys. 

“A dog can cough on your leg and that dog had kennel cough, and then you walk somewhere and another dog sniffs your leg, and they can literally get it. It’s that easy,” Williams said. 

Dog daycare facilities and kennels often require dogs to have the Bordatella vaccine to help prevent kennel cough. However, Williams said the vaccine is not preventing cases of this latest strain. 

“Even with vaccinations, dogs are getting this this year,” Williams said. 

According to Williams, the strain of kennel cough affecting area dogs is not more contagious than usual, but it is making dogs sicker. 

“We used to see young, healthy dogs come in with this, and sometimes it just gets better on its own if it’s viral and mild in a healthy dog. But this year, we’re seeing young healthy dogs literally die from this disease,” Williams said. 

She said the bacteria causing the cough is resistant to Clavamox, which is the most common antibiotic used to treat infections in dogs. Williams said dogs sick with this strain of kennel cough need doxycycline instead. 

“Catch this early, it’s fine. Catch it late, and you have the wrong antibiotics, and not test for it and it’s rough,” she said. 

Pet owners are urged to keep their dogs away from other dogs at the park. Do not allow them to share toys, food dishes or water bowls. 

Kennel cough infections can occur any time of the year but are more prevalent at times of the year when families travel more often. The current kennel cough season is expected to wind down in September and October before picking back up again during the holiday season. 

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