If your dog is hacking or constantly making noises that make it sound like they are choking on something, they may have a case of canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), or kennel cough, or sometimes called canine infectious tracheobronchitis. Although kennel cough can sound terrible, most of the time it is not a serious condition and most dogs will recover without treatment.
What Is Kennel Cough?
Just as human colds may be caused by many different viruses, kennel cough itself can have multiple causes. One of the most common culprits is a bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica, which is why kennel cough is often called Bordetella. Most dogs that become infected with Bordetella are infected with a virus at the same time. These viruses, which are known to make dogs more susceptible to contracting Bordetella infection, include canine adenovirus, canine distemper virus, canine herpes virus, canine influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, and canine reovirus.
Dogs get kennel cough when they inhale bacteria or virus particles into their respiratory tract. This tract is normally lined with a coating of mucus that traps infectious particles, but there are a number of factors that can weaken this protection and make dogs prone to kennel cough infection, which results in inflammation of the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe).
These factors include:
- Exposure to crowded or poorly ventilated conditions, such as are found in many kennels and shelters
- Cold temperatures
- Exposure to dust or cigarette smoke
- Travel-induced stress
Symptoms of Kennel Cough
The classic symptom of kennel cough is a persistent, forceful cough. It often sounds like a goose honk. This is distinct from a cough-like sound made by some dogs, especially little ones, which is called a reverse sneeze. Reverse sneezes can be normal in certain dogs and breeds, and usually only indicates the presence of post-nasal drip or a slight irritation of the throat.
Some dogs with kennel cough may show other symptoms of illness, including sneezing, a runny nose, or eye discharge.
If your dog has kennel cough, they probably will not lose their appetite nor have a decreased energy level.
How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?
Most dogs with kennel cough recover completely within 1 to 3 weeks, though it can take up to 6 weeks in older dogs or those with other medical conditions. Because serious, ongoing kennel cough infection can lead to pneumonia, be sure to follow up with your veterinarian if your dog doesn't improve within the expected amount of time. Also, if your dog at any time has symptoms of rapid breathing, not eating, or listlessness, contact your vet right away, as these could be signs of more serious conditions.
Treating Kennel Cough
Kennel cough is contagious. If you think your dog might have the condition, you should keep them away from other animals and contact your veterinarian.
There is no specific treatment for kennel cough. Although most cases will resolve without treatment, medications may be used to speed recovery or minimize symptoms during the course of infection. These include antibiotics that target the Bordetella bacteria as well as cough suppressants and anti-inflammatory medicines.
You may also find that keeping your dog in a well-humidified area and using a harness instead of a collar, especially for dogs that strain against a leash, will minimize the coughing.
Because serious, ongoing kennel cough infection can lead to pneumonia, be sure to follow up with your veterinarian if your dog doesn't improve within the expected amount of time. Also, if your dog at any time has symptoms of rapid breathing, not eating, or listlessness, contact your vet right away, as these could be signs of more serious conditions.
Preventing Kennel Cough
There are three forms of vaccine for kennel cough: one that is injected underneath the skin, one that is delivered as a nasal mist, and one that can be given by mouth. Although these vaccines may help, they do not guarantee protection against kennel cough or infectious tracheobronchitis because it can be caused by so many different kinds of bacteria and viruses. Also, it is important to realize that none of the forms of the kennel cough vaccination will treat active infections.
The intranasal and oral kennel cough vaccinations are typically given to dogs once a year, but sometimes are recommended every 6 months for dogs at high risk for kennel cough. These forms of the vaccine tend to provide dogs protection against kennel cough sooner than the injected product.
Dog Coughing: Other Causes
Like us, dogs cough to get rid of dust, germs, and other stuff they breathe in.
Also like us, they sometimes get infections or viruses.
Dogs are social creatures that naturally sniff and slurp. This is why bacteria and viruses – including a canine form of the flu -- quickly spread from dog to dog. Germs can also land on floors, furniture, food bowls, toys, and other surfaces where the next dog to come along picks them up.
A dog may be coughing because of:
- Fungal infections. Yeast and other fungi can be picked up in dirt or through the air. There are prescription medications that can help.
- Heartworms. Mosquitos spread this disease. Monthly medication or an injection that lasts 6 or 12 months can prevent it. Treatment is hard on your pet and expensive.
- Distemper. This virus spreads through the air. It's serious but can be prevented with a vaccine.
- Heart disease. Leaky valves and other problems can weaken and thicken the heart muscle. This puts pressure on the lungs and airways. Medication, along with the right diet, and exercise approved by your vet, can bring relief.
- Congestive heart failure. Fluid in the lungs can cause coughing.
- Lung problems. Sometimes dogs get bronchitis or pneumonia. They also may suck in dirt, grass seeds, or food, which can lead to an infection of the airways. Antibiotics can help. In rare cases, lung cancer is the diagnosis. Your vet will help you decide if medication or surgery is the best course.
- Collapse of the trachea. If the rings of cartilage on the dog's trachea, or windpipe, weaken, it can lead to tracheal collapse. It is a progressive condition that causes a harsh, dry cough, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. It is more common in small dogs like Pomeranians, Yorkshire terriers, and chihuahuas.
When to See the Vet
Make an appointment with your dog's doctor if:
- Their cough lasts more than a week, or worsens.
- They seem extra tired.
- They have a fever. (Normal body temperature is 100 to 102.5 degrees F in a dog.)
- They won’t eat.
- They have other health problems.
Your vet may ask you some questions like:
- Does your dog have trouble breathing between coughing fits?
- When do they do it? (At night? After eating? After drinking water? After exercise? When they are excited?)
- What does it sound like? (A goose? A seal?)
- Is the cough dry or moist?
- Does it sound like they are about to vomit?
- Where has your dog been lately? (In a place with other dogs? With you on a family vacation? Around a smoker?)
- Have there been any changes to their daily routine?
- Are they up-to-date on their vaccines and heartworm prevention?
- When did they last take their medication?
Your vet will examine your dog and run tests to find out if the problem is due to a virus, an infection, an allergy, or a different problem. The treatment will depend on the cause.
The best way to keep your dog healthy is to prevent problems before they start. Make sure your dog gets their vaccinations every year and gets heartworm prevention as directed. Don't let them play with other dogs who are coughing or sick.