What Is Kennel Cough? Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

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Small wire hair dog coughing (Caption: What Is Kennel Cough?)

Is your dog coughing more than usual? If he’s making a hacking sound (like he has a hairball stuck in his throat) and has recently spent time around other pups, he could have kennel cough, also called canine infectious tracheobronchitis.

In most cases, kennel cough isn’t serious and will clear up without any treatment needed, but it can be severe in some dogs. Learn more about the symptoms, if you should seek veterinary care, and how you can prevent your dog from contracting this highly contagious illness.

What Is Kennel Cough?

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Kennel cough is a respiratory tract infection in which a dog’s trachea and bronchi become coated with mucus that traps particles, resulting in the voice box and windpipe becoming inflamed. It can spread deep into the lungs in more severe cases and cause pneumonia. 

Dogs contract kennel cough by inhaling infectious bacteria or virus particles, through direct contact with an infected dog, or contact with contaminated surfaces, such as food and water bowls, toys, bedding, or kennel runs.

The most common culprit that causes kennel cough is the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica, hence why this illness is often called Bordetella. In most cases, dogs infected with Bordetella are also infected with a virus at the same time. These viruses can include canine adenovirus, canine coronavirus, parainfluenza virus, canine distemper virus, and canine herpes virus.

Which Dogs Are At High Risk For Kennel Cough?

2 dogs in cage at shelter

A high percentage of dogs are infected at least once during their life. This disease can spread quickly in overcrowded spaces like doggie daycare, boarding facilities, and grooming facilities, putting the pups at a higher risk of obtaining it. It can also spread easily at dog parks, training groups, pet stores, etc.

Puppies under six months of age experience some of the most severe complications since their immune systems aren’t fully developed. But puppies aren’t the only ones at risk. Older dogs and pregnant females also have decreased immune capabilities making them more susceptible to severe infection.

In addition to overcrowded places, several other factors can make dogs more susceptible to a kennel cough infection. These include cold temperatures, exposure to dust or smoke, and stress.

Kennel Cough Symptoms

Dog laying on the table at vet's office

Dogs with kennel cough may appear completely normal activity-wise and appetite-wise, but the main thing you’ll notice is their cough, which can last for weeks after infection. Below are some additional symptoms:

  • Cough that has a honking sound
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Gagging and coughing up phlegm (worse after exercise)
  • Severe cases may include: pneumonia, lack of appetite, lethargy, and possibly death

Should My Dog See The Vet?

Even though kennel cough is mild in most cases, dog coughing can be a sign of a more serious condition. So you should always contact your vet when your dog has a cough. The early symptoms of kennel cough mimic those of canine distemper and canine influenza. Other serious conditions that can cause coughing include asthma, bronchitis, a collapsing trachea, and heart disease.

Kennel Cough Treatment

Dog Taking Medicine

There are two main treatments for kennel cough. If your dog has minor symptoms, then you’ll have to let the cough run its course. In most cases, the cough will go away on its own, but your vet might prescribe antibiotics as a precaution. Also, an anti-inflammatory agent can be given to your dog to reduce the coughing episodes and help your dog feel more comfortable.

If it doesn’t improve over a few days or your dog isn’t eating, has a fever, and is having severe respiratory problems — it may turn into pneumonia which will require additional treatment.

While your pup is recovering from kennel cough, remove any items from around his neck that can restrict the airflow. This includes collars, scarves, and bandanas. Use a harness instead of a collar for walking your dog to prevent stimulation of the coughing reflex. Having your dog in a well-humidified area can also help ease the coughing.

Kennel Cough Vaccine

Dog Vaccination

The Bordetella vaccine is a non-core vaccine that veterinarians highly recommend for dogs frequently exposed to other dogs to help prevent kennel cough. Many facilities, such as boarding kennels, doggy daycare, training classes, and dog shows often require this vaccine.

There are three types of the Bordatella vaccine: injection, nasal mist, and oral. Immunizing for kennel cough is common during your pup’s regular vet visits, so be sure to ask if you expect them to spend time around other animals. The vaccine is typically given to dogs once a year, but it’s recommended every six months if your pup is at high risk.

The nasal mist and oral vaccine also protect the animal sooner than an injection. While these vaccines reduce the likelihood of illness, they don’t guarantee your pup won’t get sick because Bordatella is only one of several different bacteria and viruses that can cause kennel cough. Also, the vaccine does not treat active infections.

What Does Kennel Cough Sound Like?

Here’s a video of a family of dogs with kennel cough. This may help you recognize the symptoms if you suspect your pup may be ill.

Other Dog Health Issues

It’s important that you know about other health issues that may affect your dog. Take the time to learn about the most common health problems with dogs, so you’re prepared should anything happen. Also, make sure your dog is up to date on his vaccinations.

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