Kennel Cough In Dogs – Symptoms and Treatments · The Wildest

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Kennel Cough Is the Worst. Here’s What You Need to Know About it

Kennel cough has been making headlines, but you can prevent your pup from catching this super-contagious disease. (Hint: there’s a vaccine)

by Dr. Shawna Garner, DVM | expert review by Dr Sam Wheelwright BVSc MRCVS
31 October 2023
A dog coughing
Isaiah & Taylor Photography / Stocksy

In August 2021, London experienced an outbreak of canine infectious tracheobronchitis, aka kennel cough. This news didn’t necessarily speed up the anxious heart rates of caring dog parents everywhere, but kennel cough is always cause for concern.

Since then, outbreaks of this highly contagious health issue have made headlines, especially in the United States. Early 2022 saw it hit South Florida, New Hampshire reported a respiratory illness in dogs that resembled a combination of kennel cough and pneumonia. José Arce, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association,  told   at the time, that there is always a chance the illness could pop up in a new community. Areas in  Alabama  and  Tennessee also reported kennel cough outbreaks in the summer of 2022.

Kennel cough is highly contagious and can be contracted anywhere dogs hang out – from the park to doggie daycare. Here’s everything you need to know, including how to spot the illness in your dog and how to treat it.

What is kennel cough in dogs?

Clinically known as Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC), kennel cough is a broad term describing highly contagious infections that affect the respiratory system of dogs. Historically, it was thought to have been caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica; however, we now know other organisms are also involved, which is part of the reason that it is such a difficult disease to eradicate. There are over 20 viruses, bacteria and mycoplasmas that may cause kennel cough, many of which have only been linked to the illness in the last 10 years. We are still learning about the disease.

Kennel cough spreads easily in the air, so coughing dogs are at risk of transmitting the disease to those around them. The name ‘kennel cough’ became widely used because of the belief that the disease spreads most easily in kennels, where large numbers of dogs are kept together. Dogs can, however, contract kennel cough from anywhere that they come into contact with other dogs – are out on a walk or playing in the garden.

Most viruses can’t be spread between dogs and humans, but in very rare circumstances, kennel cough can be contagious to people with weakened immune systems because the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica can cross species. This highly contagious infection can also be transmitted to cats, so if you have a cat, keep them away from your pup.

What are kennel cough symptoms in dogs?

Kennel cough can cause some very unpleasant, flu-like symptoms in dogs, such as:

  • dry, hacking cough

  • gagging

  • sneezing

  • nasal discharge

  • mild fever (above 39C)

  • lethargy

  • decreased appetite

The most common symptom of kennel cough is a dry, forceful, persistent cough, which sounds like they have something caught in their throat. Sneezing, nasal discharge and coughing up white phlegm are also signs that a dog may be suffering from kennel cough – be careful not to mistake this for vomiting; some people confuse the two. A dry throat can also make it uncomfortable for dogs to eat, so kennel cough can cause a decrease in your dog’s appetite.

Dogs with kennel cough may also experience a mild fever (any temperature above 39C degrees is a warning sign), so take your dog’s temperature to spot the illness early. Lethargy is another symptom – if your dog seems tired or listless, this may be a sign that something is wrong. Call your vet if you’re worried your dog has kennel cough.

Kennel cough treatments

In more serious cases, veterinary attention may be required, especially if the illness persists for more than three to five days. A vet may prescribe either cough suppressants or antibiotics to help a dog fight off the infection.

Home remedies for kennel cough

In mild cases, kennel cough will often go away on its own. But your dog will need lots of TLC. Keeping them supplied with clean, fresh water and maintaining a nutritious diet is vital for their healing process. If your dog is struggling to eat dry food (it may be uncomfortable for them with a sore, itchy throat), try soaking their dry food in warm water for a couple of hours to soften it up. Finally, keeping your dog warm and dry and providing them with support and company while they get better are all good ways to get them on the road to recovery.

Because kennel cough is highly contagious, if your dog has symptoms, keep them at home and away from other dogs. They should stay at home for at least seven days after they have stopped coughing to make sure they don’t infect other dogs.

How can kennel cough be prevented?

Getting your dog vaccinated is the best way to prevent them from contracting kennel cough. Vaccination does not offer total protection against the disease, but it can give them the best possible chance of avoiding infection. The Bordetella vaccine helps guard against the top three causes of kennel cough and can be administered once a puppy is six to eight weeks old.

This vaccine can come in a variety of forms, including intranasal drops, oral liquid, or an injection. Depending on the type of vaccine that is administered, your dog may need to get a booster between two and four weeks after the first dose. Because of the complicated nature of the illness, keeping your dog up to date with all of their vaccines is the safest option.

Although getting puppies vaccinated as soon as possible is best, it’s never too late to get your dog vaccinated. In fact, it’s important that older dogs are vaccinated for kennel cough. Geriatric canines tend to have weaker immune systems, putting them at greater risk of illness. Many boarding facilities and groomers will not accept dogs unless they are vaccinated, so be sure to stay up to date on your dog’s vaccinations.

It takes around three weeks for immunity to kick in after the vaccine; keep this in mind if you’re planning a holiday or trip to the groomer.


Dr. Shawna Garner, DVM

Dr. Shawna Garner, DVM is the lead vet Albright Veterinary Services. She is driven by a powerful desire to improve the relationship between our furry family members and their two-legged counterparts.

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