When a dog presents with a dry, hacking cough but otherwise appears and acts normal, most veterinarians will have a high degree of suspicion of kennel cough, especially if the dog has recently been at a boarding kennel or some other place frequented by many dogs. The initial database typically includes a thorough physical examination and history and a complete blood count, serum chemistry panel and urinalysis. The results of these tests can be suggestive of tracheobronchitis and can also identify other related or unrelated abnormalities. Thoracic radiographs (chest x-rays) can help to rule out non-infectious causes of coughing, and can also identify more severe secondary respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia.
Advanced diagnostic testing may include a transtracheal wash or a bronchoalveolar lavage. These procedures essentially involve flushing the upper respiratory tract with sterile fluid and retrieving that fluid for microscopic examination, to identify infectious bacterial, viral and/or micoplasmal organisms. Culture and sensitivity testing on samples containing bacteria is very helpful in formulating an effective treatment plan.
Because kennel cough is so contagious, most veterinarians recommend that uncomplicated cases be treated and managed at home. Patients with pneumonia or other secondary infections or complications probably should be isolated and treated on an inpatient basis.