“The number one prevention of kennel cough,” says Dr. Toccoa Wolf, “is preventing exposure.” She recommends keeping pets away from others for two weeks after finishing their medications. That could make for a less entertaining 4th of July celebration, unfortunately. These pups rocked the 2017 parade in Sitka. (KCAW/Cameron Clark)

Sitka is having an outbreak of kennel cough among its canine residents. The disease is fairly common in dogs, but not in the high numbers the community is seeing right now.

I asked Dr. Toccoa Wolf how many cases of kennel cough she had treated lately.

“A lot.”

I had been on hold for a few minutes at the Sitka Animal Hospital waiting to speak with Dr. Wolf, who happened to be discharging a kennel cough patient when I called. Vets in Sitka are busy.

“I would say I saw kennel cough here maybe once every three months,” said Wolf. “I would see maybe one to two cases. It wasn’t something that was very common. This week, I think I’m seeing anywhere between four to five a day that are coming in, and then there’s a lot more calls.”

A dog with kennel cough may sound like they’ve got something stuck in their throat. The actual noise they make can really vary, depending on the breed and size of the dog, and the particular bug that’s causing the kennel cough. 

Wolf says there are a variety of bacteria and viruses that can cause kennel cough – and dogs can be vaccinated against many of them. In fact, most of her patients over the past couple of weeks are up-to-date on their vaccinations. But like the vaccine for human influenza, kennel cough vaccines don’t always hit the bullseye.

“The vaccine does protect against kennel cough, but it’s not 100-percent,” she said. “Similar to the human flu vaccine,  it doesn’t protect against every kind of strain, or bug that causes kennel cough. So I’m suspecting that it may be something that isn’t commonly vaccinated for.”

Although most dogs recover just fine, kennel cough – like any respiratory infection – can be serious for some pets. Preventing the spread is really important. This is going to sound all-too-familiar, but it’s time to shrink your dog’s social bubble.

“The number one prevention of kennel cough is to prevent exposure,” Wolf said. “So exposure is through direct contact with dogs. It can also be through things like bowls, and it also can be airborne. So if you are worried about your dog getting kennel cough or your dog isn’t up to date on their vaccines, even if your dog is fully vaccinated right now, I do recommend avoiding the dog park, avoiding mixing with unknown dogs on the trail. You know, just like we’re all used to social distancing with ourselves during that time, I think that we should try and keep our dogs in a bubble at this moment to try and prevent the spread. And that would be the best thing you could do for your dog.”

The course of kennel cough is seven- to 21-days. Wolf recommends that you keep your pet away from others for two weeks after they’ve finished their medications.

Wolf is sending samples from Sitka out for laboratory testing, to try and narrow down what could be causing this outbreak. If your dog is not up to date on its vaccinations, she says it’s never too late to get current. And if your dog is showing symptoms of kennel cough, you should probably check in with one of Sitka’s three veterinary clinics just to rule out some other – and possibly more serious – cause of the cough.