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Pet boarding and daycare facilities across Texas and the U.S. witnessed a jaw dropping number of kennel cough outbreaks this summer. Seasoned veterans of the pet care industry report having never witnessed anything like it before. As the summer boarding season begins to wind down, experts are weighing in on what could have triggered so many kennel cough outbreaks. The answer, it appears, may be COVID-19.

What is kennel cough or, more accurately, canine cough?

First, what is kennel cough? Or, more accurately, canine cough because it can happen virtually anywhere dogs are together (veterinary clinics, dog parks, dog-friendly establishments, your neighborhood). This upper respiratory disease which is also known as canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRD) is caused by both viruses and bacteria. It is primarily an airborne disease which is why it can spread so easily. An infected dog coughs and the aerosolized infectious particles can travel in the air and stay viable (alive and infectious) for extended periods of time. 

How did COVID-19 contribute to the spread of canine cough?

It was not the coronavirus itself that caused canine cough outbreaks but, rather, the changes to lifestyles related to the pandemic. If you have human kids, you may be familiar with interseasonal respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and, even if you don’t have kids, you’ve probably had RSV at some point in your life. As described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under one year of age in the United States.” During the pandemic, cases of RSV plummeted as we all socially distanced but, with pandemic life ending and people gathering again, RSV is on the rise, so much so the CDC issued an official health advisory about it earlier this summer. So, what does that have to do with canine cough? In a nutshell, as the protections against COVID-19 began to wane, as social distancing and “lockdown” lifted, people and dogs began gathering more, allowing RSV and canine cough, respectively, to spread.

Michigan State University recently published a helpful “ask the expert” on the subject of COVID and canine cough and, in summary, here is what happened:

“The biggest contributor to this uptick is likely the increased commingling of dogs because people are going back to work and enrolling dogs in day care settings, because people are traveling and boarding their dogs in kennels, and because of increased social activities like frequenting dog parks. All of these are likely the result of the easing of COVID restrictions. 

“Another COVID-related factor is that many dogs likely had lapses in CIRD (kennel cough) vaccinations during 2020-2021, as access to veterinary care was heavily impacted by COVID. Many of the CIRD vaccines need to be given annually to provide optimal protection and missing a year could increase the risk of transmission.”

So, there you have it. In a nutshell, COVID-19 contributed to canine cough outbreaks as dogs were not around other dogs for an extended period of time and vaccinations lapsed.

What Barkaritaville Pet Resort does to help prevent the spread of canine cough…and what pet parents can do

Barkaritaville Pet Resort has a battalion of protocols in place to help prevent the spread of canine cough at our facility:

  • We have strict cleaning and disinfecting protocols that have been further strengthened in response to the pandemic.
  • Our facility has a commercial-grade UV air sanitizer from animal care industry experts Aerapy Animal Health (also known as PetAirapy) installed to help kill infectious airborne pathogens as they circulate in the air.
  • For surface cleaning, we use hospital-grade disinfectant that is gentle and safe for use around animals but tough on pathogens.
  • We use Kleanbowls, eco-friendly food and water bowls, designed to be recycled and prevent the spread of germs.
  • Only pets that are fully vaccinated for canine cough (Bordetella) are admitted here and we highly recommend an annual canine flu shot as it adds another layer of protection.

Nevertheless, despite best efforts, we occasionally do have guests contract canine cough. And this is where what pet parents can do comes in…

  • Because it can take up to 10 days after exposure for a dog to show any signs of illness, getting your pet vaccinated well in advance of their stay at our pet resort is critical—a minimum of three to five days in advance is recommended.
  • Unexpected travel plans can catch many of us unprepared, so even if you have no plans to board your dog anytime soon, now would be a great time to make sure vaccinations are up to date.
  • Further, if it’s an option with your vet, we recommend the intranasal Bordetella vaccine as it is faster acting.
  • For those with puppies, be aware that their immune systems are still building and, for senior dogs, their immune systems can be less vigorous—they age seven years to our one—so be sure they are fully vaccinated and well in advance of their stay.

COVID-19 was a game changer in so many ways—that it would contribute to a dramatic increase in kennel cough cases across the country may not have been on anyone’s pandemic bingo card but here we are, as they say. Your pets are part of our family and, together, we can help protect their health and the health of the pets around them.