Kennel cough is an infectious form of bronchitis that affects dogs. It’s also referred to as canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) or infectious tracheobronchitis. The most common symptom of the illness is the hacking cough produced by canines with the infection. Other possible symptoms of kennel cough are:
- Coughing with a “honking” sound
- Runny nose
- Low-grade fever
- Lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
Kennel cough is highly contagious — spreading through airborne droplets and transmitted by direct interactions between dogs and shared contaminated items like food bowls or toys.
Dogs often contract kennel cough when they’re among others of their species in a small area — such as a dog park, a boarding service, a dog show, and even veterinary hospitals. The risk increases if there’s a continuous turnover of animals within the space.
One of the most common causes of kennel cough is the bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica. Your dog can get a vaccination to prevent contracting kennel cough this way, but it doesn’t provide complete prevention because the sickness is caused by multiple types of bacteria and viruses.
It typically takes around two to 14 days for kennel cough to develop. While many cases of the disease end up being mild, kennel cough can turn into a more severe form of pneumonia in dogs — which can require hospitalization. This most commonly happens with puppies, dogs with an existing medical condition, and older dogs.
Remedies and Treatments for Kennel Cough
Healthy dogs typically recover from a bout of kennel cough after resting for a week or two. Treatment for kennel cough may also include antibiotics prescribed as a preventative measure against the dog developing a secondary infection that could be more life-threatening. They may also recommend a cough medication to provide some relief from the symptoms of kennel cough.
Dogs with milder cases of kennel cough often appear healthy other than having a persistent cough. It’s unlikely that an otherwise healthy dog with kennel cough will experience lethargy or appetite loss. Animals with more complex forms of the illness may show more pronounced symptoms, like a fever and depression.
Worsening symptoms can signal a secondary infection that might be bacterial pneumonia. If your dog starts to have trouble breathing, displays exercise intolerance and doesn’t seem to want to eat or drink, you should consider hospitalization.
Health care professionals will perform oxygen therapy and introduce intravenous fluids to stabilize your dog’s condition and get them to a point where they can continue treatment at home. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics, expectorants, and other medications to address specific symptoms. Your dog may also have to come back to the hospital for further testing to monitor their recovery.
Long-Term Treatment and Prevention
Dogs with uncomplicated forms of kennel cough usually suffer no long-term effects from the illness. If they are recovering from a complication like pneumonia, they may need to continue receiving treatment like coupage (physical therapy that involves clapping hands on the side of a dog’s chest), nebulizer treatments, and more antibiotics.
As a dog owner, you should take the following precautions until your pet is fully recovered from kennel cough and its possible complications:
- Keep your dog indoors and away from exposure to wet weather or extreme cold.
- Avoid being around other dogs.
- Make sure your dog isn’t exposed to cigarette smoke, excessive dust, or poor ventilation.
- Schedule regular vet appointments and follow vaccination and medication suggestions.
The measures above are also good practices to follow for preventing future bouts of kennel cough from developing.
When to See a Doctor
Owners may want to take a dog to see a veterinarian if the dog has a persistent cough after coming home from a boarding service or participating in activities with other canines. They can examine the dog and perform conjunctival and pharyngeal swabs, then test them for kennel cough.
You can also take your dog to a doctor if you are interested in having the dog receive a kennel cough vaccination, but vaccines are not given if the dog is sick. It is typically included in those given to puppies and as a booster. You can find vaccines for preventing infection by the bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria in an injectable form as well as one that you administer through mouth drops. The vaccine can be administered as an injection or a nasal spray. Just ask your vet when it can be given. The earliest age is different between different vaccines. For instance, the injectable form made by Zoetis isn't done until 8 weeks of age
However, even with vaccination, it’s important to let your veterinarian know if your dog starts coughing. Even if it’s not kennel cough, it could be a sign of an illness that needs medical attention right away, such as:
- Heartworm disease
- Canine distemper
- Canine influenza
- Cardiac disease