What is Kennel Cough? Prevention and Treatment

Dogs cough for plenty of innocuous reasons, but if you see your dog coughing violently without an obvious one, you should consider the possibility of Kennel Cough. The causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of kennel cough are discussed below to help you keep your dog healthy and fit.

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is a highly contagious canine respiratory disease that is also known as infectious canine tracheobronchitis or bordetellosis. It is commonly acquired from places like dog parks, dog daycares, dog boarding, and pet kennels and is usually mild enough to not require veterinary attention. Kennel cough incubation period ranges from 2-14 days, but it is not necessary for every infected dog to show symptoms. Some dogs can even be carriers for months without developing any symptoms.

What causes kennel cough?

Wondering how do dogs get kennel cough? The microorganisms involved are described below.

  • Bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica

Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacteria that affects both cats and dogs to cause tracheobronchitis, which is the inflammation of the windpipe (trachea) and bronchi. The organism is highly contagious and the main bacterial component responsible for kennel cough.

  • Canine parainfluenza virus

The Canine parainfluenza virus or CPIV is a highly contagious virus especially likely to be found in places where there are a lot of dogs in close proximity. This respiratory virus is the most common cause of infectious canine tracheobronchitis and a common component of kennel cough.

  • Other microorganisms

Other microorganisms that can play a role in causing kennel cough are Mycoplasma spp., canine adenovirus type-2, Canine herpes virus, reoviruses, canine distemper virus, and canine coronavirus. These can cause the disease in place of the Canine parainfluenza virus or occur in addition to the two primary causative agents.

How does kennel cough spread?

  • Airborne droplets

The microorganisms causing kennel cough are most commonly spread by means of pathogen-containing droplets produced when an infected dog coughs or sneezes. The bacteria or viruses in these airborne droplets get inhaled into the dog's respiratory tract, where they multiply to produce infection.

  • Direct contact

Direct contact with an infected dog (like touching noses) is also a common means of spreading kennel cough. An infected dog's saliva can be responsible for this mode of disease transmission, and microorganisms settled on the body of the host after being coughed or sneezed out can also play a role.

  • Contaminated items

Kennel cough is very contagious, so sharing food and water bowls, toys, beds, crates etc., between an infected and a healthy dog can quickly spread the infection to the healthy dog. In addition, other objects and furniture that the infected dog interacts with can also become contaminated and serve as vectors of the disease.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

Some common and uncommon Kennel cough symptoms include:


  • Persistent dry cough

The first and most prominent sign of kennel cough is a dry, persistent cough. A dog with kennel cough will cough loudly in frequent bursts, and the resulting 'honking' sound will resemble a reverse sneeze.

  • Retching
Dry heaving or retching is also a common sign of kennel cough in infected dogs. It is caused secondarily by the hacking cough and can worsen if the dog is active or excited. The dog might also vomit small amounts of fluid when retching.


  • Cough worsening upon exercise

Kennel cough almost always worsens upon exercise, and that is your clue that it's not just flu or sore throat. Dogs don't really like sitting still even when they're sick, but if the cough gets worse when you take them for a run, it's likely kennel cough, and you should limit your dog's activity until the symptoms subside.

  • Sneezing

Sneezing isn’t a common symptom of kennel cough, but it’s still observed occasionally. Dogs often sneeze when feeling excited or playful, but if a persistent hacking cough accompanies your dog's frequent sneezing, it is most likely to be the canine respiratory infection known as kennel cough.

  • Runny nose

A dog with just a runny nose is more likely to be suffering from a cold or sudden change of diet, but you should consider the possibility of kennel cough if the runny nose is accompanied by other concerning symptoms like coughing, retching, etc.

  • Discharge around the eyes

Another uncommon but hard to miss symptom of kennel cough in dogs is discharge around the eyes. This discharge is usually purulent (pus-like) and unclear, taking up colours like green, yellow, and even grey.

  • Loss of appetite

Appetite loss is generally not observed in otherwise healthy dogs with kennel cough, so if it does occur, it could be a sign of a secondary infection or hint at a more serious form of illness or underlying disease.

  • Lethargy

Lethargy is a common sign of stress in pets, so it's not surprising that most illnesses cause some form of lethargy. However, you should start getting concerned when your dog's lethargy is accompanied by loud hacking coughs, retching, and fever.

  • Fever

Any infection or inflammation can cause a fever, but the fever in kennel cough is usually mild and not a cause for concern. In case of a high fever, monitor your dog's temperature and apply cool water around areas like paws and ears.

How to treat kennel cough?

The best kennel cough treatment is rest, but there are things you can do to comfort your dog and recover faster, especially if the illness is severe. Kennel cough treatment at home includes:

  • Antibiotics

Despite kennel cough being a mix of bacterial and viral infections, antibiotics are given to help treat and prevent secondary bacterial infections. The most commonly prescribed antibiotics for kennel cough are Baytril, Doxycycline, and Clavamox, but others like Trimethoprim-sulfa are also given.

Antibiotics should not be given without consulting a vet and only used for severe cases to keep antibiotic resistance to a minimum.

  • Cough suppressants

With your vet's approval, dog-safe cough suppressants like Robitussin, Temaril-P, and even Mucinex can be given to provide your dog temporary relief from the cough. Your vet should also determine the appropriate dosage of such cough suppressing medicines.

  • Honeyed water

If your dog’s kennel cough isn’t severe enough to see a vet, but you would still like to help, you can give your dog some warm water with ½ to 1 tablespoon of honey added to it. Do this a couple of times a day to minimize the coughing and soothe your dog’s throat.

  • Moist air

Moist air can go a long way in soothing your dog’s respiratory tract and keeping him comfortable. Moisten up the air your dog breathes by setting up a small humidifier or vaporizer near your dog. You can also use the steam created by hot showers and baths to your advantage or use a nebulizer.

  • Other suggestions

Help keep your dog comfortable by treating any visible symptoms as they arise. For example, massage its throat to soothe bouts of continuous sneezing, give it an appetite stimulator if it refuses to eat for too long, and make sure it rests so it can recover fully and quickly.

Kennel Cough Prevention

Now that you know all about kennel cough treatment, you should also look into its prevention. The following are some of the best  ways to prevent your dog from getting kennel cough:

  • Vaccine

The bordetella vaccine protects dogs against kennel cough and is suitable for both puppies and adults. However, precautions must still be followed despite the kennel cough vaccine's effectiveness as kennel cough is caused by more than one organism, so even vaccinated dogs can get the disease.

  • Take precautions

When you leave your dog at a dog boarding or go somewhere with many dogs like a dog show, you should do your research and take the necessary precautions. Background check any boarding or daycare you decide to leave your dog with and avoid nose-to-nose contact and shared water sources with unknown dogs.

  • Isolate

If you own multiple dogs and one gets kennel cough or comes into contact with a dog that has kennel cough, isolate it immediately and keep it isolated for at least two weeks after the cough ends. Ensure there is no sharing of objects between the infected and healthy dogs and disinfect anything the sick dog comes into contact with.


Can I board my dog with kennel cough?

You should never board a dog exhibiting symptoms of kennel cough at a daycare or dog boarding. The disease is highly contagious, and infected dogs should be isolated after visiting the vet and kept like that for at least 14 days until all signs of the disease are gone.

How long does kennel cough last?

Kennel cough is rarely severe, and most infections resolve on their own within one to three weeks without needing any Kennel cough treatment. However, serious cases might last longer and require prolonged treatment.

Can humans get kennel cough?

Yes, but in rare cases only. Most of the viruses and bacteria responsible for kennel cough cannot be passed on to humans, but some like the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria can affect severely immunocompromised individuals.

Hope this article answers your questions about kennel cough and how to deal with it! Got any questions or anecdotes? Share them in the comments down below!

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  • Christine Hampton
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