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Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel Cough in Dogs

Critter Culture Staff



Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) or infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs. This illness can affect dogs of all ages, but puppies, senior dogs, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable. Dogs can develop kennel cough approximately two to 14 days after exposure. The primary symptom is a dry, hacking cough that often sounds like a honking noise.

While the condition is typically mild, in some cases, it can progress to more severe symptoms such as pneumonia, especially if left untreated or if the dog has other health issues. Understanding kennel cough is crucial for dog owners to prevent and manage this common canine illness.


What causes kennel cough?

black and white dog in a kennel DanBrandenburg / Getty Images

Kennel cough is caused by a combination of viruses and bacteria, making it a complex condition to address. The most common cause is the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, which is why the illness is sometimes referred to as Bordetella. However, other germs can also lead to kennel cough, including canine adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, mycoplasma, canine influenza virus, canine distemper virus, canine respiratory coronavirus, and canine reovirus.

Each of these pathogens can contribute to the development of kennel cough, either alone or in combination with others. Dogs are more likely to get kennel cough if their immune system is weak. Factors that can weaken a dog's immune system include stress from changes in their environment, crowded spaces like shelters or boarding facilities, cold temperatures, and exposure to irritants like smoke or dust.

Preventative measures such as vaccinations and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of infection.


Is kennel cough serious?

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Kennel cough is usually mild and may clear up without treatment, often within a few weeks. However, it can be serious for older dogs, puppies, and dogs with other medical conditions, as they can develop complications like pneumonia. These complications can lead to more severe symptoms and a longer recovery time. Certain strains of the virus can be more dangerous and last up to six weeks, causing significant discomfort and health issues for the affected dog.

In rare cases, kennel cough can lead to life-threatening conditions, especially if the dog has a compromised immune system or other underlying health problems. It's important for dog owners to monitor their pets closely and seek veterinary care if symptoms persist or worsen, to ensure a full and speedy recovery.


How do dogs catch kennel cough?

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Healthy dogs get kennel cough by inhaling airborne bacteria or viruses from infected dogs. The disease can spread rapidly through environments where dogs are in close contact with one another. Shared toys, food bowls, and water bowls can also harbor the bacteria or viruses, making it easy for the illness to spread. Common places where dogs can catch kennel cough include shelters, kennels, dog daycare centers, dog parks, beaches, and grooming facilities.

These locations often have many dogs in close proximity, increasing the risk of transmission. In addition to these environments, dogs can also contract kennel cough during travel or from visiting places with poor ventilation. Dog owners should be aware of these risks and take precautions, such as ensuring their pets are up-to-date on vaccinations and avoiding high-risk areas during outbreaks.


Symptoms of kennel cough

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The main symptom of kennel cough is a persistent, dry, hacking cough that can sound quite harsh and alarming. Other symptoms can include coughing fits, especially during the night, which can disrupt both the dog's and the owner's sleep. Dogs may also retch and produce white foam, which can be mistaken for vomiting.

Additional symptoms include clear eye drainage, runny nose, and sneezing, which can be signs of the respiratory infection spreading. Tracheal sensitivity is another common symptom; a dog with kennel cough may start coughing when gentle pressure is applied to the trachea.

In severe cases, dogs may show signs of lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, and labored breathing, indicating a more serious infection that requires immediate veterinary attention. Recognizing these symptoms early can help in managing the illness effectively.


Diagnosis of kennel cough

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Veterinarians diagnose kennel cough based on symptoms, history, and response to therapy. During a physical examination, the vet will listen to the dog's lungs and trachea, looking for signs of respiratory distress. Diagnostic testing may include blood work to check for signs of infection or inflammation, chest X-rays to examine the lungs and airways for abnormalities and PCR testing to identify the specific bacteria or viruses causing the illness.

These tests help determine the severity of the infection and guide the appropriate treatment plan. In some cases, additional tests, such as a tracheal wash, may be performed to collect samples directly from the respiratory tract. Early and accurate diagnosis is essential for effective treatment and to prevent complications.


Treatment of kennel cough

small dog in the hospital SbytovaMN / Getty Images

Most mild cases of kennel cough can be treated with supportive care, which focuses on rest, nutrition, and hydration. Ensuring the dog gets plenty of rest helps their immune system fight off the infection. Providing a nutritious diet and keeping the dog well-hydrated is also important for recovery. For more severe cases, treatment may involve hospitalization, intravenous fluids to maintain hydration, antibiotics to combat bacterial infections, and possibly oxygen therapy for dogs experiencing difficulty breathing.

Keeping your dog in a well-humidified area can help soothe their airways, and using a harness instead of a collar can prevent pressure on their trachea. Additionally, your veterinarian may prescribe cough suppressants or anti-inflammatory medications to reduce symptoms and make your dog more comfortable during the recovery process.


Home remedies for kennel cough

dog drinking water alex_ugalek / Getty Images

For mild cases of kennel cough, there are several home remedies you can try to alleviate your dog's symptoms. Mixing honey and warm water can soothe your dog's throat and reduce coughing, as honey has natural antibacterial properties. Using a humidifier in the room where your dog spends most of their time can help moisten the airways, making it easier for your dog to breathe.

Alternatively, taking your dog into a bathroom filled with steam from a hot shower can provide similar benefits. Reducing environmental irritants like smoke, dust, and chemicals is also important, as these can exacerbate your dog's symptoms. Ensuring your dog has a comfortable, quiet place to rest will support their recovery and help them regain their strength.


Prevention of kennel cough

beagle recovering from kennel cough on the couch Solovyova / Getty Images

Vaccination is one of the best ways to prevent kennel cough. Vaccines are available for Bordetella and other respiratory illnesses, and they significantly reduce the risk of infection. Puppies and at-risk dogs, such as those that frequently interact with other dogs or stay in kennels, should be vaccinated. It's important to check the vaccine requirements for boarding and grooming facilities to ensure your dog is protected.

In addition to vaccination, maintaining good hygiene and avoiding high-risk areas during outbreaks can help prevent the spread of kennel cough. Regular veterinary check-ups and a healthy lifestyle also play a crucial role in keeping your dog's immune system strong and reducing their susceptibility to infections.


Recovery and management

dog in a harness Brendan von Wahl / Getty Images

While your dog is recovering from kennel cough, ensure they get plenty of rest and reduce their exercise. Avoiding strenuous activities helps prevent further irritation of the respiratory tract. Using a harness instead of a collar can prevent pressure on their trachea, which can exacerbate coughing. Monitor your dog for any signs of complications, such as difficulty breathing, persistent coughing, or loss of appetite, and consult a veterinarian if you notice any severe symptoms.

Providing a comfortable, stress-free environment and minimizing exposure to irritants will support your dog's recovery. Keeping your dog isolated from other dogs during the contagious period is also essential to prevent the spread of kennel cough.


Kennel cough FAQs

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  • Is kennel cough contagious to humans? No, kennel cough is only contagious to dogs. Humans cannot catch kennel cough from their pets, but it is highly contagious among dogs.
  • How long is kennel cough contagious? Dogs are contagious while coughing and should be kept away from other dogs for at least two weeks after their last cough. In some cases, they may remain contagious for up to six weeks, so continued isolation may be necessary.
  • Can kennel cough be deadly? While most cases are mild, kennel cough can become deadly if a dog develops pneumonia or other severe complications. Prompt veterinary care and appropriate treatment are crucial to prevent serious outcomes.

Wrapping it up

Kennel cough is a common but usually mild respiratory disease in dogs. It can be caused by various viruses and bacteria and is highly contagious among dogs. Symptoms include a persistent cough, sneezing, and nasal discharge, with severe cases showing signs of lethargy and loss of appetite. Most dogs recover with rest and supportive care, but severe cases may require veterinary treatment. Vaccination is an important preventive measure, especially for puppies and older dogs.

If you have any concerns about kennel cough, consult your veterinarian for advice and treatment options to ensure your pet remains healthy and happy. Regular check-ups and maintaining a healthy lifestyle for your dog can further reduce the risk of kennel cough and other illnesses.


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