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Kennel Cough: Causes and Treatment

Kennel Cough: Causes and Treatment

Critter Culture Staff



Kennel cough is another name for infectious bronchitis in dogs, most commonly caused by the Bordetella virus. There are many bacteria and viruses that, besides a nagging cough, cause mostly mild symptoms and usually clear without treatment. However, some dogs develop complications and may need antibiotics.

Kennel cough has a 14-day incubation period and spreads through airborne transmission. It is highly contagious, especially in crowded places with low airflow.


What causes kennel cough?

black and white dog in a kennel DanBrandenburg / Getty Images

Like the common cold, kennel cough can be caused by many different viruses and bacteria, though a common cause of kennel cough is a bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica. Certain illnesses can make dogs more susceptible to Bordetella, including canine distemper, canine herpes virus, parainfluenza, and canine reovirus.

A compromised immune system makes a dog more susceptible to getting kennel cough. A weakened immune system could result from stress, spending time in crowded spaces like shelters and kennels, cold temperatures, and exposure to smoke or dust.


Is kennel cough serious?

brown dog at the vets FatCamera / Getty Images

Kennel cough is usually not severe and may clear up without treatment. However, older dogs, puppies, and dogs with other medical conditions are susceptible to complications like pneumonia. Depending on the virus, certain strains are more dangerous and can last up to 6 weeks.


How do dogs catch kennel cough?

dogs playing at the dog park Darwin Brandis / Getty Images

Healthy dogs get kennel cough by inhaling airborne bacteria or viruses. The bacteria or virus spreads through coughing or sneezing, shared toys, and food and water dishes. Symptoms usually present within 3 to 4 days or up to 2 weeks after exposure.

Some places dogs commonly get kennel cough include:

  • Shelters
  • Kennels and dog daycare
  • Dog parks and beaches
  • Grooming facilities


Is there a vaccine for kennel cough?

dog getting vaccinated LightFieldStudios / Getty Images

You can vaccinate your dog against Bordetella, though it will not protect your dog from any other respiratory illness that could trigger kennel cough. Other vaccines that may prevent kennel cough include parainfluenza, adenovirus, and distemper.

Puppies should be vaccinated when they're 6 to 8 weeks old, with a second booster 4 weeks later. After 16 weeks old, they would only need one dose because their immune system is healthier then.

Adult dogs should have a booster vaccine every six months to one year, depending on the risk factor. If you regularly board your dog, a booster every six months helps keep your dog healthy.


Mild kennel cough treatment

pug dog in bed fongleon356 / Getty Images

For less serious cases, treatment may only mean supportive care, focusing on rest, hydration, and proper nutrition. To help reduce the coughing frequency, the vet may prescribe a cough suppressant, which will keep your dog more comfortable. Most dogs with mild kennel cough recover on their own, without any treatment.


Treating serious cases of kennel cough

small dog in the hospital SbytovaMN / Getty Images

Dogs can get very sick with serious kennel cough. In complicated cases, dogs will likely cough, act lethargic, and not want to drink or eat. For dogs that get pneumonia, treatment may involve IV fluids, antibiotics, and oxygen therapies. Your dog may require an overnight stay at the vet for monitoring.


Home remedies for kennel cough

dog drinking water alex_ugalek / Getty Images

For mild cases, there are some remedies to try at home. Adding one tablespoon of honey to some warm water in their bowl will help soothe your dog's sore throat. Honey also helps to lessen coughing.

Using a humidifier near your dog moistens the air and improves irritation in their respiratory tract. Alternatively, take a hot shower and bring your dog into the closed bathroom. Steam has similar benefits to a humidifier.


Support your dog's recovery at home

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

While your dog recovers, they need lots of rest, and exercise should be reduced. Try to decrease irritants like smoke, dust and chemical cleansers, which could prolong their recovery.

Immune boosters like vitamin C can help their body fight the infection and shorten recovery time. Additionally, natural supplements are available with herbal ingredients to soothe their throats and help with coughing.


Exercise and walking

dog in a harness Brendan von Wahl / Getty Images

If you walk your dog, consider using a harness instead of a collar, which won't pressure their trachea. Pushing on the trachea could worsen coughing and slow recovery.

It is essential to keep your dog away from others while they're contagious, which could be up to 3 months after recovery.


Recovery outlook

happy dog with their family Vasyl Dolmatov / Getty Images

For otherwise healthy dogs, they will most likely recover without the need for treatment in as little as 2 weeks. During this time, you can give them natural remedies at home to soothe their symptoms and monitor for worsening.

Vaccinating your dog is the best line of defense against Bordetella infection and is essential for puppies and aging dogs who are most susceptible.



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