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What You Should Know About Kennel Cough

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Everything changes when your furry best friend gets sick. And illness always seems to strike at the worst possible time; one day, your dog is fine, and the next you find yourself overwhelmed with vet bills and medication.

We all worry about our Yorkie’s health from time to time, but how do you know the difference between a mild cough and something more concerning?

Kennel cough is one of the most common diseases a dog can get, and it can be especially worrisome in a Yorkshire Terrier. Not only is it highly contagious, but many dogs can carry the disease without ever showing symptoms. However, with timely treatment and prevention, your pup will be back to normal in no time.

Kennel cough, known by professionals as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a respiratory infection not too different from the common cold in humans.

It’s usually caused by a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica m, or Bordetella for short. Other bacteria and viruses can contribute to the infection, but Bordetella infections make up most cases.

Bordetella spreads anywhere that dogs are in close quarters. According to the American Kennel Club, the bacteria spread “through airborne droplets, direct contact (e.g., touching noses), or contaminated surfaces (including water/food bowls).”

This makes it especially common at doggy daycares, boarding facilities and animal shelters.

OId dogs, young dogs and dogs that already have respiratory issues are the most susceptible to the bacteria. Yorkshire Terriers and other small dogs are already prone to trachea issues, putting them at a higher risk for infection. 

Yorkshire terrier puppy with pink bow laying in blue blanket

Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptoms are:

  • A strong and persistent “honking” cough
  • Sneezing
  • A runny nose
  • A small fever

More serious symptoms of the disease include low energy and a loss of appetite, but these are uncommon. Symptoms will present more severely than usual in puppies, old dogs and dogs with weak immune systems.

It’s important to not confuse a reverse sneeze with the cough associated with Bordetella. If your dog has a Bordetella infection, his/her cough will be heavy and followed by a sound like a goose’s honk. Reverse sneezing sounds more like snorting or even a person’s cough and is perfectly normal for Yorkies.

If your pup has been coughing for several days, or if the coughs are keeping your pet up at night, then you should schedule an appointment with your vet. Persistent coughing could be a sign of a collapsed trachea, a fatal condition if left untreated. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Treatment Options

First of all, remember that the cough is highly contagious. Take your pup to the vet and separate him/her from your other dogs if you suspect an infection. 

Most Bordetella infections clear up on their own. Your vet will suggest lots of bedrest and snuggling for the patient. If your pup is having trouble getting well, or if symptoms are very severe, your vet may prescribe some antibiotics to help the infection run its course. Your pup may also be prescribed some cough medicine to keep them comfortable while they recover.

Keeping your pup in a humid area while they heal could also speed up recovery. Humidifiers are an affordable way to do this in drier parts of the country.

Walking your dog with a harness instead of a leash attached directly to their collar can also speed up recovery. Harnesses take the pressure off of the trachea and dramatically reduce coughing.

We believe that Yorkie owners should look into using a harness anyways; Yorkies have naturally thin bones that can accidentally be injured by leash/collar use.

Most of the time, your pet’s cough will clear up after about three weeks. Severe infections requiring antibiotics could take up to six weeks to clear up. If your pup is still sick after 3-6 weeks, schedule an appointment with your vet. An ongoing infection can progress to pneumonia pretty quickly when left unchecked.


sweet yorkie puppy laying on pink blanket

Bordetella infections can be prevented with a vaccine. The vaccine is available in three different forms: nasal, by injection or by mouth. Your pet may need a booster shot every six months to a year to keep them protected once they receive the vaccine.

The Bordetella vaccine is ideal for Yorkshire Terriers that frequently find themselves in social settings such as dog parks, doggy daycares, and dog training classes.

Their small size and fragile respiratory systems leave Yorkies more vulnerable to infection than other breeds. In fact, many doggy daycares and spas require the vaccine before they will serve your pup. Always look up vaccine requirements before trying out a new establishment.

Vaccination may not always prevent your pet from getting sick. Bordetella bacteria are only one of the causes of kennel cough. That being said, vaccination gives your pet the highest chance possible of avoiding infection.

If your pet cannot be vaccinated, take extra care at public parks and boarding facilities. Always make sure that your pup has access to clean water, and avoid wearing collars with leashes.

Be cautious for the first few weeks after adopting a new pet. Keep an eye out for any troubling symptoms, and make sure to go to every scheduled vet appointment. As we mentioned earlier, most infections clear up on their own after a few weeks, so your dog should be happy in no time.

Has your dog ever experience Bordatella? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

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Cathy Bendzunas with yorkie and yorkie mix

Cathy Bendzunas

Dog Blogger

I have always loved Yorkies and got my first one when I was 19. I bred and showed them back in the 80’s. Though I love other breeds too, Yorkshire Terriers will always be my first love. I have lived and worked with dogs all my life.

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