What Is Kennel Cough in Dogs and Should You Be Worried about It?

By: Jill Jones

Photo by Mark Buckawicki

Kennel Cough in dogs is a form of bronchitis, usually lasting 7 to 21 days, characterized by a deep, hacking cough that sounds like a goose honking. It is a particularly contagious disease that is easily treatable and mostly preventable through vaccination.

Cause of Kennel Cough

The disease (technically known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis) precipitates inflammation of the trachea and bronchi, caused by various microorganisms, the most common of which are Bordetella bacteria, canine adenovirus, parainfluenza virus and mycoplasma.

As its name suggests, kennel cough spreads quickly in crowded, close quarters such as kennels, animal shelters, or even dog parks. Transmission can occur via air, direct contact, or by the sharing of contaminated objects, such as toys or water bowls. Mostly it is spread by infected dogs, though in some cases it can be spread by asymptomatic canine carriers.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough

The most pronounced symptom is a distinct, frequent cough that can be triggered by exercise, and sometimes accompanied by nasal discharge, malaise, loss of appetite, and/or fever. Symptoms typically present three to seven days after infection and can linger for one to two weeks. Any dog can get kennel cough, but unvaccinated puppies and dogs are at higher risk.

Diagnosis of Kennel Cough

Contact your vet immediately if you think your dog has kennel cough, so she can make a diagnosis and rule out anything more serious. There is no definitive test for the disease; your vet will instead make a clinical diagnosis based on your dog’s symptoms. She will probably advise you to isolate your infected dog for the next two weeks or so to prevent the spread of the disease to other pets. Humans cannot catch kennel cough.

Treatment of Kennel Cough

The vast majority of dogs that contract Kennel Cough will recover on their own without medication. Your vet is likely to recommend rest, and isolation—to the extent possible—from other pets. She may prescribe antibiotics and cough suppressants for a severe case or to prevent a secondary infection. Similar to treatment of humans with a bronchial infection, a humidifier may make your dog more comfortable at night when he and you are trying to sleep. If you have to walk him outside, consider switching to a dog harness to ease pressure on his already-compromised trachea.

Possible Complications of Kennel Cough

In rare cases, kennel cough can progress to pneumonia, particularly in dogs with immature or weakened immune systems such as puppies or older dogs. Monitor your dog’s symptoms and contact the vet immediately if his symptoms worsen or he doesn’t start to improve after a week.

Prevention of Kennel Cough

The bordetella vaccine provides some measure of protection against kennel cough. Ask your vet to administer the vaccine to your dog if you plan on boarding him (it will most likely be required by the kennel) or bringing him anywhere else dogs congregate in close quarters. Puppies as young as four to six weeks old can be vaccinated.

The vaccine is available via injection or oral or nasal administration and is usually given in two doses, several weeks apart. The injectable vaccine requires two to five days to be effective; the intranasal vaccine takes effect immediately. A booster is required every six months to one year, depending on the version originally dispensed to your dog.

Be aware that the vaccine isn’t 100% effective, however, because it only protects against certain of the microorganisms that cause the disease. Previously infected dogs may have some measure of immunity.

Other Conditions with Similar Symptoms

If your dog develops a cough, it’s important to contact your vet immediately because it can be a sign of a more serious disease. Canine distemper, canine influenza, heartworm disease, Blastomycosis, Valley Fever, and even cardiac disease can present initially with a cough; they are illnesses that require prompt medical attention.

If your dog does happen to contract kennel cough, try not to worry as there is an excellent likelihood that he will make a full recovery within a week or two. Dog owners who have been through it will tell you that the biggest problem with kennel cough is the distress and disruption caused by your dog’s constant coughing, day and night. The good news is if you nurture him by keeping him calm, comfortable and hydrated, you both will weather the storm without any long-term consequences.

2 thoughts on “What Is Kennel Cough in Dogs and Should You Be Worried about It?”

  1. I took two of my dogs to e.r. vet, a dog came in coughing and now I have 4 with it. I can’t separate them . Now what

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