Kennel Cough in Dogs

  • By: Mick Whitefield
  • Time to read: 6 min.

Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel Cough is an infectious upper respiratory disease characterized by a hacking, harsh cough and previously known as tracheobronchitis. The name Kennel Cough is given because the infection from the cough can spread easily and quickly in close quarters such as kennels or shelters.  This contagious cough can be very mild and have a very short duration that may warrant no medical attention at all, or, it can progress to a life-threatening case of pneumonia. The severity of the disease depends on the dog’s own immunological strength and the particular type of Kennel Cough involved – Bordetella bronchiseptica, Canine parainfluenza or Canine Coronavirus. 

Kennel Cough Types in Dogs

Kennel cough in dogs is an infectious bronchitis characterized by a hacking, harsh cough. The contagious cough may be mild enough and of a brief duration to warrant no medical attention, or it may progress to become life-threatening pneumonia. The severity depends on the dog’s immunological strength and infectious agents involved. 

Kennel cough is a common infection that affects the respiratory system, and many dogs get it during their lives. The cough creates an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, including the windpipe (trachea) and voice box (larynx).

Which Dogs are most susceptible to Kennel Cough?

Often, young puppies suffer the most severe kennel cough complications because their immune systems have not had the chance to obtain the necessary anti-bodies and immunities that are needed to fight off infections, thus they are physically weaker.

Dog With Intraveneous Drip
Puppies are the most vulnerable group

Just like Humans very old dogs are also at increased risk as they may have decreased immune capabilities. 

Other susceptible groups include dogs that have pre-existing respiratory problems and pregnant dogs who also experience lowered immunity. In most of these groups, kennel cough can rapidly progress to pneumonia and may require hospitalization.

Causes of Kennel Cough

Infected dogs spread the virus though coughing where the droplets from this coughing can then spread through the air within several feet.

These secretions float in the air and can be inhaled by a healthy pet. Suboptimal ventilation and crowded housing play a big part in the likelihood of transmission.

Dog Coughing
A Dog Coughing can spread infections quickly

Other common spreading is caused by the infectious organisms being transmitted on food bowls, toys, or other objects. If dogs share toys or chews, bedding areas and kennels then the infections are very easily spread.

Dog Bowl Outward Hound Fun Feeder Blue Side View Rotated
Saliva left on dog bowls and toys can spread viruses

Dogs “catch” or contract kennel cough when they inhale (breathe in) virus or bacteria particles into the respiratory tract. This upper respiratory tract is composed of the voice box and trachea and is lined with a mucus coating and it is this mucus that traps infectious particles.

The mucus is supposed to help protect this area from from external debris, however, several factors can weaken this protection, making dogs susceptible to kennel cough infection, leading to larynx and trachea inflammation.

These factors include:

  • Exposure to poorly ventilated or crowded conditions, like those found in some pet shelters and kennels
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke or dust
  • Cold temperatures
  • Travel-induced stress

So in brief, dogs catch the virus from other infected dogs, either from droplets within the air (coughing close to them) or from droplets or saliva left on toys chews and other shared items. 

Kennel Cough Symptoms 

In the majority of cases, dogs with kennel cough look healthy apart from persistent coughing. Some will, however, have a runny nose, eye discharge, or sneezing.

The most common symptom of kennel cough is a forceful, persistent cough. Often, it sounds like something is stuck in the dog’s throat. The cough can be hoarse and dry or productive, in which case it could be followed by the production of mucus, a gag, or swallowing motion. 

Typical symptoms include:

  • A persistent dry, hoarse cough 
  • Coughing throughout the night that keeps the dog awake
  • Retching and gagging
  • Watery nasal discharge
  • In mild cases, the dog is often active and eats normally
  • In severe cases, the symptoms can progress to lethargy, fever, pneumonia, in-appetence, and even death.

If your pet has kennel cough, he probably will not show decreased energy levels or lose their appetite. The symptoms appear approximately three to four days after exposure.

Diagnosing Kennel Cough

If you are in doubt consult your vet. Kennel cough cannot be successfully diagnosed using a single test. Usually, it’s enough to diagnose kennel cough if a dog shows symptoms of the infection and has been exposed to a crowd of other dogs within the incubation period. The pet vet can take swabs to determine the exact bacteria or virus causing kennel cough. If your vet suspects complications, the condition can be assessed with scans or x-rays.

If you suspect your dog has the infection, but he is eating well, playful, bright, and generally perky, a visit to the vet may not be necessary. However, monitor him closely and contact your vet for guidance if the conditions persist. If you are worried that the cough is getting worse, take him to the clinic. Inform the clinic of your suspicions and please keep your pet away from other dogs until he is fully diagnosed and treated.

Kennel Cough Treatment

In most cases, dogs recover from kennel cough within three weeks without treatment, but sometimes, it can linger for up to six weeks. If treatment becomes necessary, the vet may prescribe antibiotics that kill the Bordetella bacteria. This is the most common bacteria in kennel cough cases. 

For mild cases, the treatment options may only entail good supportive care that covers nutrition, rest, and hydration. Your dog’s veterinarian may prescribe a cough suppressant or linctus to help reduce the cough frequency and the spread. 

To aid recovery, ensure the home is well ventilated and consider using a harness when walking your dog. A collar or lead might aggravate the windpipe further because of the pulling.

Preventing Kennel Cough

A Bordetella bacterium vaccine is available. Frequently boarded dogs, those that compete in canine sports, visit doggie day-care, or are exposed to large dog groups stand to benefit from the vaccine. Besides, many doggie day-cares, boarding, and training facilities typically ask for proof of vaccination. 

Dog Being Injected
Vaccination is important

The vaccine is available in injectable, oral, and intranasal forms. Initially, and depending on the form, the vaccine is usually given in two doses 2-4 weeks apart. This is followed by a booster every 6-12 months. 

However, it’s important to point out that because kennel cough has a broad range of causes as well as strains, getting vaccinated doesn’t guarantee your dog universal protection. Even after getting vaccinated, dogs can still acquire kennel cough but usually a less severe infection. It’s best to be prepared and get Fido vaccinated.

Although the Bordetella bacteria cause most kennel cough cases, some variants have other sources. These include canine respiratory coronavirus, canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus type 2, and mycoplasmas. The vaccine is designed only to protect your dog against Bordetella bacteria.


Kennel cough is a highly contagious infection that easily spreads among dogs that share a common space. Typically, dogs are exposed when in crowded areas with poor airflow and moist, warm air.

When infected dogs cough, the virus, and bacteria become airborne and can easily be inhaled by other animals. Kennel cough can also be transmitted in food bowls, toys, or other shared objects such as beddings.

If you suspect your four-legged pal has the disease, it’s best to keep him away from other pets to curb the spread.

The good news is that kennel cough is treatable and preventable. 

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