Dog Smarts: Meet Dr. Brooks. Avoid Kennel Cough.

As children, many of us dream about helping animals for the rest of our lives. Few of us are lucky enough to follow that notion into a “grown-up” career.

For Dr. Tara Brooks of Affton Veterinary Clinic, the path was long and somewhat indirect.

Dr Tara Brooks, Affton Vet Clinic

Dr Tara Brooks, Affton Vet Clinic

Once she grew up, she did decide to help—only she dedicated her assistance to humans with developmental disabilities.

As a volunteer Special Olympics track coach in Champaign, Illinois, Dr. Brooks made the world a little friendlier for the disabled. She transitioned from a volunteer coach to a full-time vocational trainer.

It was rewarding, and she loved helping others.

Then, she met “Toast.”

Toast was a German Shepard puppy who had been abused. Dr. Brooks turned things around for Toast and helped her become a therapy dog for the people at the Developmental Services Center.

Sadly, though Toast made huge contributions to the lives of people, she succumbed to an early death due to unbearable seizures.

But her life served as both an inspiration and a reminder to Dr. Brooks. She vowed to go back to school to pursue her childhood dream.

She became a veterinary technician while seeking her pre-vet degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. From there, she was accepted into the esteemed University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine.

Upon graduating, Dr. Brooks worked as an associate veterinarian in St. Louis County for four years before purchasing her own veterinary clinic in 2008.

To this day, the logo for her Affton Veterinary Clinic displays the likeness of Toast prominently in its logo.

Dr. Brooks, a life-long animal and human lover, continues to deliver quality medicine and compassionate care to all of her patients and their owners.

We were fortunate enough to ask her a few questions about this installment of Dog Smarts about kennel cough.


What exactly is “kennel cough”and how does it effect my dog?

Kennel cough (also known as infectious tracheobronchitis) is caused by a combination of a viral component (parainfluenza) and a bacterial component (Bordetella).

It is referred to as “kennel cough” due to seeing an increased incidence of the disease at kennels and boarding facilities. This is because of the high concentration of dogs in a closed space and the ease of passage from one canine to another.

The virus cannot live long outside the host unless it is in a warm, moist environment, and it is typically self-limiting in the dog (meaning it will run it’s course and the dog will get better without treatment).

However, we do typically prescribe antibiotics due to the very opportunistic nature of the Bordetella bacteria. We start antibiotics to prevent the tracheobronchitis from getting worse and to prevent the bacteria from settling into the trachea.


How do dogs become infected even after they’ve been given the bordetella vaccination?

Nose to nose contact is the typical spread of the virus. Dusty environments or high pollen-count days can also increase transmission as the virus can attach to these particles and be breathed in much easier.

Infected water bowls and toys can also be a potential source of spreading infection; however, the virus is more likely to be passed from dog to dog, not item to dog. But also remember that if humans are touching an infected dog and then petting another, they are carrying the virus on their hands and can transfer this to another dog.

Dogs are often infected by “non-clinical carriers.” These are dogs that carry the contagious virus without showing outward signs of disease. These dogs are really hard to identify, as they are not coughing, have no nasal discharge or other symptoms of sickness. Owners should be aware of these carriers.

The bordetella/parainfluenza vaccination is not 100% effective in preventing disease, just as our human flu vaccine. The vaccine does reduce clinical symptoms, decreases duration of disease and can increase the animal’s immunity to improve the likelihood of not contracting fulminate disease.


What should owners do if they think their dog has a respiratory infection (kennel cough)?

Owners should take responsibility, even if it is inconvenient for their schedule, to keep their dog home from grooming, boarding and day care appointments if their dog is coughing. While the viral component is typically self-limiting as mentioned above, seeing your veterinarian for possible antibiotics and cough suppressants will help hasten the recovery period.

Dogs should be considered contagious until they have been on antibiotics for at least 5 days, however, I recommend no return to play groups, dog parks or other multi-dog events until 7 days has passed from starting treatment.


How serious is a respiratory infection, and what makes dogs more susceptible to it than others?

While kennel cough in and of itself is considered a fairly mild infection, several complications can arise without proper medical care. It is very possible a mild infection can turn into something more severe and pneumonia can develop from a severe case of kennel cough.


Is there anything, beyond the vaccination, owners can do to prevent their dogs from getting kennel cough?

Unfortunately, some dogs are exceptionally susceptible to kennel cough, while other dogs can be around infected dogs and not become ill at all. If you know your dog is prone to develop kennel cough you can vaccinate your dog more often (every 4 months) and try to reduce time spent in venues that have a large number of dogs in a closed space. Keeping your dog healthy all around will also improve the immune system. Improving overall health can be done with good diet, proper exercise, maintaining proper weight and keeping up on your dog’s oral hygiene. An unhealthy mouth reduces the ability of your dog’s immune system to fight off disease.


Is there anything else you’d like to share about respiratory infections (kennel cough)?

Remember that “kennel cough” is a layman’s term for infectious tracheobronchitis. Your dog does not have had to be kenneled, groomed or boarded in a kennel to contract this disease.


Thanks, Dr. Brooks, for your devotion to pets and for your time with us at The Watering Bowl Doggy Daycare and Boarding.