Kennel Cough: The Ins and Outs

By Chyrle Bonk, DVM December 13, 2019

With the cold and flu season in full swing you’ve no doubt upped your hand washing, practiced covering your mouth while you cough, and have done your best to avoid anyone feeling under the weather. Even with all of those precautions, you still seem to catch the occasional cough and sniffles. It should be no surprise that your dog has the same troubles, but without the ability to use all of all of the germ-killing products that you’ve invariably stocked up on. So when is a little cough just a little cough in your pup, and when is it something more? Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of kennel cough to help keep your pooch healthy during this season and all of the seasons of the year.

What Is Kennel Cough?

As a dog parent, you’ve no doubt heard about kennel cough. But what is it really? Can any cough in a dog referred to as kennel cough or is it only for those pups that reside in well, kennels? Kennel cough is a layman’s term for canine infectious tracheobronchitis. No wonder the name kennel cough has caught on! Like the common cold, kennel cough has more than one bad bug that causes it with viruses and bacteria included. One of the more famous of these bad bugs is Bordetella bronchiseptica, which is why you may have heard kennel cough referred to as Bordetella. Other offenders include parainfluenza, canine herpes virus, canine adenovirus, canine distemper virus, canine reovirus, and mycoplasma. Whatever the cause, the result is inflammation of the upper airways, including the trachea and larynx, and leads to a honking, hacking, and choking cough.

How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is highly contagious. In fact, the name kennel cough refers to this illness’s ability to spread rapidly through dogs that are housed in close proximity, ie. a kennel. The offending viral or bacterial particles are spread through respiratory secretions into the air and then inhaled by other critters. Because of this, dogs have to be in fairly close contact with an infected pup. While a normal respiratory tract has a mucous lining to help trap those nasty particles and flush them out before they can cause an infection, sometimes the sheer number of particles can overwhelm the system and allow just a few to get past that barrier. These kennel cough-causing particles can also be aided if your dog is under other stresses; such as travel, a change in their surroundings, cold temperatures, or having a concurrent health issue. Kennel cough isn’t only a winter issue, it can be seen anytime of the year.

What Are the Symptoms Of Kennel Cough?

Typically kennel cough is more of an annoyance than a detrimental illness. Most dogs will only show a persistent, almost constant, goose-honking type cough. They may also hack, leading many dog parents to believe that they’re choking on something. The irritation of the throat causes the cough, and the cough causes irritation to the throat creating a viscous cycle.

Occasionally, dogs with kennel cough will also present with other cold symptoms, such as watery eyes, a running nose, sneezing, a fever, and lethargy. In some cases, the sore throat will prevent a pup from eating and the forcefulness of the coughing will bring about vomiting. Again, dogs with kennel cough will often have a history of being boarded, groomed, have gone to doggie daycare, or an obedience class or dog show.

Is Kennel Cough Contagious?

As we stated before, kennel cough is extremely contagious to other dogs, hence the history of being grouped with several other canines in close confines, but what about you and your other furry friends? If your pup brings home kennel cough, then your kitties can fall ill to it as well. The same goes for ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs and even pigs. These critters definitely have to come in close contact with your sick pup, and their immune system is compromised is some way by being very young, very old, or having another health issue to catch the disease.

So, what about you? Bordetella bronchiseptica is very similar to the causative agent in whooping cough, a potentially serious illness of babies and children. Humans are also capable of contracting Bordetella bronchisptica infections that can lead to upper airway irritation; however, it is fairly rare that these infections were contracted from their animals. Again, humans who have caught kennel cough from their pups have to have their immune system compromised in some shape or form.

How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?

You may notice the hacking sound of kennel cough within three to seven days following exposure. Most mild causes will resolve itself within one to three weeks, while more severe cases may need to be treated by a veterinarian. Some dog parents may choose to see a veterinarian even for mild cases as the constant cough can be annoying and cause some sleepless nights and long, long days.

What Should I Do If My Dog Has Kennel Cough?

First thing’s first, if your pup has kennel cough, you should keep them away from other animals as much as possible. Skip the obedience class, reschedule their grooming appointment, and avoid any other activities that put them in close contact with other animals. You don’t want to expose other animals to this contagious disease. After that, you can help relieve the symptoms at home.

  • At home care

You probably know from experience that warm, humid air can help calm an irritated cough. Your dog’s cough is no different. Taking them into the bathroom while you shower or turning on a humidifier can help decrease their loud cough. You may also consider using a harness rather than a collar for those morning walks to prevent unnecessary pressure on the larynx and trachea. Consider moistening their dog food to make it easier and less irritating to swallow. Again, most cases of kennel cough will go away on their own, but you may feel compelled to get help from a veterinarian.

  • When to see a vet

If you want to help your dog get rid of kennel cough a little more quickly, consider seeing your vet. They can provide either prescription or over-the-counter medications that will help relieve the throat irritation a little sooner. You will also want to consult your vet if your pup is showing other symptoms besides the persistent cough or if the cough has lasted longer than three weeks with no improvement. Veterinarians will need to get involved in cases of kennel cough in dogs that have concurrent diseases like diabetes or immunosuppressive disorders. Coughing isn’t a symptom of kennel cough alone. Pneumonia, heart worms, and heart disease, among other things, can also cause a cough. So, anytime you’re worried, you should see a vet to get that cough checked out.

What Are the Treatment Options For Kennel Cough?

Besides the at-home supportive treatments for kennel cough mentioned previously, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics, especially if there are other symptoms of fever, or thick colored nasal discharge. They may also give your pup a cough suppressant, either prescription or non-prescription, or anti-inflammatories in order to help reduce the irritation of the throat. Your veterinarian may also recommend kennel vaccinations for dogs that are high risk.

How To Prevent Kennel Cough

Obviously, sequestering your pup from contact with other dogs is the best way to prevent a kennel cough infection, but is definitely not a fun option. Pups want to socialize, so instead be more careful and selective with how they socialize. Steer clear of dogs that you know are sick or that are exhibiting a constant cough. Use reputable groomers and boarding facilities that understand and take precautions against kennel cough.

Another option for those dogs that are inevitably exposed to kennel cough, like show dogs or constant travelers, is to have them vaccinated. In fact, some boarding and grooming facilities require an up-to-date kennel cough vaccination before admitting your pup. There are two types of kennel cough vaccinations out there, an injectable form and an intranasal form. There are wide and varying opinions on the efficacy of these vaccines relative to each other and just in general. Some vets feel that the intranasal vaccine is more effective in unvaccinated animals and that it works faster. But it also makes a dog feel like their drowning for a brief second, so it can be a little miserable to administer. Additionally, since kennel cough can be caused by various types of viruses and bacteria, your dog is only protected against the culprits that are included in the vaccine, usually Bordetella and parainfluenza, and does nothing against the other bad bugs. So, the vaccination may help decrease the severity of a kennel cough illness from other viruses but won’t fully protect your dog. The bottom line is to discuss kennel cough vaccinations with your veterinarian to determine if your dog needs it.


Keep your pup healthy this season by knowing the symptoms and causes of kennel cough. While kennel cough is an easily transmittable illness of our best friends, it also tends to be a fairly mild one. Most dogs will recover from that honking, hacking cough on their own with some supportive care from you, but don’t be afraid to seek veterinary advice if there are other symptoms present or you’re at all concerned.

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