In many ways, kennel cough is the dog equivalent of the human cold. Just like a cold, kennel cough is a highly contagious infection that's usually relatively harmless in healthy adult dogs. However, when puppies and senior dogs contract kennel cough, they can develop serious complications like pneumonia. By knowing the symptoms of kennel cough, you can identify it sooner and help your dog recover quickly.
If you're particularly worried about kennel cough, ask your vet about vaccinations that protect against infectious bacteria and viruses.
Unsurprisingly, the main symptom of kennel cough is the cough itself. Dogs can begin coughing for a number of reasons, from throat irritation to heartworm, but kennel cough has a distinct sound. Listen for choking, hacking, or honking, as kennel cough will often sound like your dog has something stuck in their throat. Note that while kennel cough is usually dry and hoarse, it can sometimes produce mucus. When it does, your dog's coughing may be followed by gagging and swallowing.
Kennel cough can give your dog a runny nose and runny eyes. These symptoms are more typically caused by allergies and generally aren't a major cause for concern on their own. Dogs can become allergic to anything from foods to pollen, leading to respiratory and other symptoms. The best way to tell the difference between congestion caused by kennel cough and allergies is by the color of your dog's mucus. Allergy-related discharge is usually clear in color. If your dog's discharge is yellow or opaque white, this could be a sign of an infection like kennel cough. Infectious discharge may also have a foul smell.
Sneezing is another affliction with a variety of causes but could be a sign of kennel cough if your dog presents other symptoms. However, sneezing on its own is unlikely to be caused by kennel cough. Some other common reasons your dog may begin sneezing include allergies, tooth infections, and nasal mites. Dog breeds with small snouts, such as pugs and bulldogs, also have a genetic predisposition to sneezing.
The average dog has a body temperature of around 99.5°F to 102.5°F, but kennel cough can sometimes cause a fever of 103°F or higher. You can take your dog's temperature at home with a regular rectal thermometer made for humans. If you don't have a thermometer at home, try touching your dog's paws or the back of their ears. If they feel unusually hot, it's likely your dog has a fever.
You should always keep an eye on your dog's food intake, as a loss of appetite often indicates an underlying health problem. A dog with kennel cough may eat less than usual, particularly when the infection advances. Your dog may also lose their appetite due to another illness, a dental problem, or even out of pickiness. While you're waiting for a diagnosis from your vet, you can encourage your dog to eat more by heating up their food, adding some tasty broth, or hand-feeding them.
If your dog has a serious case of kennel cough and it progresses without treatment, prolonged fever and loss of appetite can quickly lead to dehydration. Dehydration can become fatal if ignored, so it's important that you keep an eye out for the signs. The easiest way to test your dog for dehydration is to gently pinch and raise the skin near their shoulders. If your dog hasn't been drinking enough, the skin will take several seconds to return to its original place. Excessive panting, sunken eyes, and a dry nose can all be signs of dehydration too.
Many dogs with kennel cough continue to run and play as usual, showing few signs of sickness in their behavior. However, it's not uncommon for dogs to become weak and lethargic when the infection sets in. If your dog suddenly becomes uninterested in going for a walk or playing fetch, it could be because they have kennel cough. Other common causes of sluggishness in dogs include hot weather and anxiety.
Alongside a hacking cough, you may also hear your dog making retching or gagging sounds if they have kennel cough. Retching often accompanies a wet cough, occurring when your dog tries to dislodge the mucus that gets stuck in their throat. That said, even a dry case of kennel cough can cause gagging as a secondary symptom. Sometimes, retching and gagging can also progress to vomiting.
When dogs vomit, their owners typically suspect gastrointestinal troubles — but that's not always the case. Vomiting can also be a symptom of respiratory problems like kennel cough. Some dogs with kennel cough will vomit up white phlegm and fluids, while others may regurgitate whole meals. This vomiting also tends to worsen when the dog becomes excitable.
If your dog has contracted kennel cough in the past, don't get complacent about a repeat of the symptoms. Just as with the common cold, kennel cough has many different strains. If your dog starts displaying the symptoms again, it's entirely possible they've contracted another strain of the infection. Dogs that contract the Bordetella bronchiseptica strain typically have immunity for around 6 to 12 months, but other kennel cough causes can reinfect your dog more frequently.
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