Hill County Seeing Increased Reports of Kennel Cough

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HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – Hill County has seen a recent uptick in dogs contracting cases of kennel cough.

Kennel cough is a term covering infectious or contagious conditions in which coughing is a major symptom, including Bordetella.

Shannon Heggem is an International Boarding Kennel Consultant and the operator of Luxury Unleashed in Havre. She says kennel cough impacted six dogs at her business, forcing them to shut down for several weeks.

“There are so many different strains and it’s so highly, highly contagious that it’s sort of an ongoing battle. This strain that is circulating here in Havre has been circulating around the state for several months. We’ve been keeping an eye on it…The transmission, we knew it would was eventually going to get here. So it’s not a surprise, but just wish that it hadn’t happened, for sure.”

Heggem says the number of cases of kennel cough in the Havre area is increasing with each passing day.

“The problem is that it’s so highly contagious. So how long has it been here in Havre? I’m guessing not long. The pet care providers that we have here in the area, we all work together. We’re lucky that all of us have good relationships, so we keep in touch with each other and know what’s going on with other facilities. It’s just sort of now rearing it’s ugly head. Where did it come from? Who knows. It did come into my facility through our playcare program, which is a dog play session. Where the dog got infected, who knows? It’s just so highly contagious that it can live on a surface. A dog can be walking down the sidewalk, and if a dog that had kennel cough coughed on a bush or on the sidewalk, another dog can pick that up just from that surface to surface contact…Once it gets here, that’s the problem. Because dogs that have it can be contagious for weeks.”

Heggen says she has already reached out to all impacted pet owners that use her services, and they will remain completely closed through December 5th.

“Just so we can deep clean, so we can give that a chance to die off. We have had six dogs come down with it out of the twenty-some dogs that were in our playcare program. So not every dog got it even though they were in a social situation with one another. So we’re keeping an eye on the dogs now. The incubation period has passed, it’s usually 2-12 days, somewhere in there. So I’m hoping that that’s all the dogs that are going to get it, but we have shut down and do a really deep cleaning with a veterinarian recommended disinfectant to make sure it’s not living on any surfaces here….Moving forward, just making sure that we have as little contact as possible when we have a guest here. Making sure that that guest doesn’t have contact with other guests. And also just really talking to the pet owners who have pets with compromised immune systems, those who are elderly. Making sure, do you really need to board your dog right now, is it really that important? That’s one thing I would communicate to all the pet owners all there. Do you really need to have your dog groomed right now? If you can avoid those situations for dogs that are immunocompromised, that’s always best.”

Despite the presence of kennel cough in the area, Heggem says it is important for pet owners to continue living their lives.

“Most dogs make a full and uneventful recovery. Most of the time it’s not a serious illness. That can change if you have a dog that’s immunocompromised or an elderly dog it can develop into pneumonia and actually can be fatal. So we still have to carry on with our daily lives. People have to have their dogs groomed, people have family emergencies, we’re in the holiday season where people have to board their pets, so you can’t just completely shut down and isolate. But if you can do as much as you can do within reason, that helps everybody, that helps reduce the spread of this illness.”

Heggem recommends reducing social situations your dogs are in as much as possible for the time being.

The disease is often mild, but the cough can be chronic and last for several weeks. It can be very serious and even fatal in immunocompromised dogs.

Other symptoms include runny eyes and nose, swollen tonsils, wheezing, lack of appetite, and depressed behavior. It is very contagious and can be transmitted through casual contact between canines.

Accelerated risk factors include cold weather, crowded conditions, and exposure to dust or smoke.

Although there have been local cases of kennel cough among fully vaccinated dogs, Heggem and the Friends of the Havre Animal Shelter urges dog owners to make sure their pet has been vaccinated for kennel cough in the last six months.

“Even if your dog just stays at home with you, it’s still important that your dog is vaccinated for Bordetella, because we don’t know how this is going to mutate. Kennel cough, Bordetella, all of that is circulating all the time and it can live on surfaces. So even if you don’t take your dog into social situations, make sure it’s vaccinated. And with anything, information is power. Google it and find out more about it. It’s really important that if you own a pet, you know what you’re facing.”

Heggem says in rare instances, kennel cough can transfer to cats, and even humans.

“If you yourself are immunocompromised, lung conditions, that sort of thing, it has been known to be zoonotic and move into humans, which is very disconcerting. While it is rare, it is possible. And it can be transmitted to cats, but that is rare as well. Dog to dog is really the biggest concern.”

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