looking after a dog with kennel cough
Pet Health Questions and Answers

Kennel Cough in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Our dogs are susceptible to all kinds of illnesses and health issues. In addition to the usual conditions that keep pooch parents up at night – cancer, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, the list goes on – there is another concern to add to the list in the form of kennel cough.

Table of Contents:

What is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough results from various foreign bodies teaming up and attacking your dog’s immune system.

The main offenders are bacteria called bordetella bronchiseptica, and two viral infections; the Parainfluenza virus, and another viral agent named Adenovirus. Another organism, which goes by the name of Mycoplasma, also joins the party from time to time. It’s quite the tag team of destruction!

The end result is akin to a doggy ‘flu. If a dog comes down with kennel cough, they’ll find their throats become irritated due to all these various infections. That means that they’ll be hacking and coughing that sounds as though Fido has a frog in his throat, and your poor pooch will generally be in all kinds of discomfort.

What kennel cough is not, despite appearing similar in places, is the more serious canine distemper. This is why it’s vital to ensure that a professional sees to signs of kennel cough as soon as you may notice them manifesting in your dog.

Even though a vet won’t be able to wave a magic wand and cure the problem with immediate effect, they’ll be able to set your mind at rest and eliminate any other potential causes for your dog feeling under the weather.

Is Kennel Cough Dangerous?

Not usually, but that statement comes with all the usual caveats connected to health concerns. Think of kennel cough as being similar to same as human ‘flu – for the most part, there will not be any major problems if we’re dealing with a strong, bouncing, healthy adult dog, and they’ll get over their bout of kennel cough without any major problems.

If it’s a puppy or a senior dog that is showing signs of contracting the cough though, it could become significantly more problematic. Just like human ‘flu, the more vulnerable pooch population could find themselves struggling to cope with their illness. It’s not unheard of for conditions of this type to take a surprising and unwelcome turn for the worse, so be vigilant about managing the symptoms.

If your dog shows any signs of kennel cough, you should get them to the vet straight away. It’s a contagious disease that comes with a period of enforced isolation while your dog recovers, so even though it will most likely not be anything urgent or life threatening, it will benefit everybody to get the problem seen to. The sooner Fido is feeling better, the sooner he will be out running and be playing again.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough

Like any health concern, there are many symptoms that surround kennel cough. Unfortunately, some of them are also shared with other, more dangerous and long-term conditions. This is why the vet should get involved early in the process.

Obviously, the clearest warning sign of kennel cough is a dry, hacking, wheezing cough. This will sound almost akin to a honk, and it can be a little scary at first as it may appear that your dog is struggling for breath, and it certainly isn’t fun for Fido either.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs

All dogs differ in how kennel cough manifests. Some of them show this particular symptom all day, others only suffer from a coughing fit when they have been exercising. Some dogs might find that laying down on their tummies brings it about, others will appear fine unless they’re standing on their hind legs. The why isn’t important. What does matter is that it’s happening in the first place!

In addition to the coughing, there are other indicators of the problem to look out for. These include:

  • Tearful, Runny Eyes
  • Runny Nose
  • Sneezing
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Low-level Fever

If you spot any of these symptoms, make an appointment to see your vet as quickly as you can.

How Do Dogs Catch Kennel Cough?

Lets get one myth out of the way first – even though kennel cough is very similar in symptoms, impact and nature to ‘flu, it can’t be developed by getting caught in a downpour. Sorry – we’re afraid both you and your dog are going to need to think of a different excuse for not taking a walk on a cold, rainy night.

As the name suggests, kennel cough tends to originate when dogs share a space in a small, condensed area such as a kennel. This is because the airborne nature of the virus allows it to spread like wildfire, and dogs are pack animals by their very nature.

They play together, eat together, sleep together, groom each other… it’s hardly surprising that if one of them gets sick, it causes a whole domino effect that impacts every other canine in the collective.

Just be aware that exposure to the virus can come from anywhere, and not just kennels. A prize-winning hound at a national dog show is just as likely to pass kennel cough to your own dog as a scrappy mongrel from the local shelter.

Related article: Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

Is Kennel Cough Contagious to Humans?

Yes. Kennel cough – or, to be more precise, the bordetella strain of kennel cough – is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be passed between animals and humans.

Bordetella may have mutated and taken on a different form by the time it reaches the human body (think of how a human female can catch man ‘flu – the deadlier, far more lethal version of what should be a fairly common sickness), but it can have an impact all the same.

how long does kennel cough last?

Much like with dogs, this shouldn’t really be much of a concern for a healthy adult. However, the very old, very young or otherwise immunity-impaired should take certain steps to avoid aggravating the virus, including:

  • Ensuring that your dog is regularly vaccinated against kennel cough, in particular, the bordetella bronchiseptica strain.
  • Keeping your dog away boarding houses or kennels, or anywhere else they are likely to share an enclosed space with a vast number of other animals – including an overnight stay at the vet if that’s at all avoidable.
  • Not adopting dogs directly from an animal shelter, or anywhere else that they may have been housed among a great many other dogs that could potentially be virus-carriers.
  • Washing your hands, and using sanitizer, after coming into contact with dogs, and not letting them lick you. It’s cute, but it could be dangerous in the longer term!

Does This Mean That I Could Pass a Common Cold on to My Dog?

A common cold? No. Influenza? Yes. Are you following us so far?

A cold that leaves us feeling under the weather for a few days is largely designed to attack the immunity of the human body, meaning that when your dog snuggles up with the intention of making you feel better, you can let them.

On the rare occasions that we contract ‘flu though – as in, genuine, backside-kicking influenza that leaves us bedridden for weeks – the adaptable nature of the virus means that it could mutate and target your dog instead. If you’re really poorly, it’s probably best to keep your distance from humans, dogs and anything else that you may not want to infect.

Can Cats Get Kennel Cough?

This is possible, but it’s unlikely. Cats can be impacted by bordetella, but once they reach maturity and full strength they’re largely immune. In some cases, however, you may find a cat sneezing and struggling with a runny nose and eyes for a few days if they’ve shared space with a dog living with kennel cough.

Just bear in mind that, as an airborne disease, an infected cat will probably be passing the virus along to their fellow felines through meowing, hissing and general breathing. Just because your cat enjoys immunity, it doesn’t mean that the same could be said for every pussy in the neighborhood, and a vulnerable cat may be at risk.

Kittens, in particular, need to be protected from bordetella. It can very quickly turn fatal if ignored and left untreated. Be vigilant about any symptoms, and get them seen to by a vet immediately.

How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?

Kennel cough could last anything from three to ten days. If your dog is coughing, sneezing, struggling for breath or generally acting out of character for any longer than that, you should return to your vet for a second health assessment.

how to prevent kennel cough from spreading

Will Kennel Cough Go Away by Itself?

In theory, yes. Like all viruses, kennel cough is not a permanent condition, and sooner or later your dog will bounce back. Simply ignoring the symptoms and hoping that a kennel cough goes away is hugely inadvisable, though.

For a start, it’s cruel to your dog. They will be dealing with a great deal of pain and discomfort, all of which is avoidable with the appropriate medications from the vet.

What’s more, ignoring kennel cough is also irresponsible dog ownership. This is a contagious condition, as we have stated, and willfully allowing your dog to pass it on to potentially vulnerable fellow canines is extremely poor form.

If you were coughing and sneezing constantly, would you eschew all forms of medication and turn up for work or go to the movies, potentially passing your germs on to countless other people? If you answered no to this –which we sincerely hope you did! – you should apply the same logic to your dog.

How to Prevent Kennel Cough from Spreading

The short answer to this is by enforcing a kennel cough isolation period upon your dog, keeping him or her away from other canines for up to 14 days after you first notice symptoms of the illness. Your dog’s symptoms should have clear up by day 10, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

This may sound difficult – unreasonable, even – but it’s sadly necessary. Unless you happen to know the full medical history of every single one of your pooches play pals, you have no idea if catching kennel cough will be dangerous to them.

This isolation period doesn’t mean that you need to keep your dog prisoner in the home. It just means that you shouldn’t really put them in direct contact with other canines during this time. Trying walking your own dog early in the morning, or later at night, when the streets and parks are more likely to be quiet. And remember, this isn’t forever. It’s just a short-term part of being a responsible pooch parent.

Health Complications Caused by Kennel Cough

As we have already stated, kennel cough by itself will not be enough to place an otherwise healthy adult dog at any kind of permanent risk.

If it manifests in older dogs or young puppies, however, it could lead to something a little more concerning in the longer term. The same also applies to any hound plagued by a heart condition, or problems such as diabetes.

If your dog has any kind of health concern, don’t hesitate in having them checked by a vet at the first sign of kennel cough. This otherwise mild condition could be a gateway to something significantly more serious.

Kennel Cough Treatment

Well, the easiest treatment is to prevent your dog from catching kennel cough in the first place! It’s tricky to keep your canine away from every single dog that could be carrying the virus, but you can vaccinate Fido to prevent him from being struck down.

Vaccination Against Kennel Cough

Like all airborne viruses, a vaccination against kennel cough may not be 100% effective. There is a slim chance that the strain of the condition that your dog is protected against will mutate and still find its way into your dog’s orbit.

The good news is that two of the key elements of kennel cough, Parainfluenza, and Adenovirus, will already be covered in the typical annual vaccination or booster package that a vet can offer you. If you do not currently take this offer up, we really can’t stress strongly enough that you should start to do so.

What Are the Causes of Kennel Cough in Dogs?

There is, however, an additional agent – Bordetella – that is believed to provide a faster and more impactful defense against kennel cough. If a dog is having this additional vaccination for the first time it will typically be administered as a nasal spray, and from then on an annual basis as a booster injection.

Just one thing to be aware of – if you’re planning on taking your pet to doggy daycare or any other kind of hotel or kennel, they’ll usually need to be vaccinated before they’re allowed to enter. It can be hugely damaging to a company’s reputation if an outbreak of kennel cough is traced back to them, and they’ll have to close down for quarantine purposes for a while which will really hit them in the pocket. Understandably, this means that most professional bodies will not take any chances.

Medical Remedies for Kennel Cough

A vet will usually be able to treat your dog’s kennel cough with a course of antibiotics. Ask your vet for more information if you have any suspicion that your dog is living with kennel cough, as you will want to look into treatment options as quickly as possible.

Home Remedies for Kennel Cough

If you are worried that your dog has kennel cough, especially if it’s the first time they have had such a problem, you really need to get them to a vet for some professional treatment. It can be costly, and it could take time to make a full recovery, but there’s little point in taking any chances – a cough may lead to something else, and it could spread to other, vulnerable canines.

However, if you are adamant that you want to use a home remedy to ease your dog’s symptoms – or you are facing a lengthy wait before the vet can fit you in – there are a handful of different things that you can try

Mercola is probably the highest authority holistic remedy site on the web, and these are their recommendations:

  • Raw Honey, Licorice Root, Slippery Elm or Marshmallow will ease the throat pain caused by the coughing, and prevent your dog from coughing too harshly, too often.
  • Essential Oils – such as Lavender, Eucalyptus, and Tea Tree – should make it easier for a dog with kennel cough to breathe. Oregano Oil, meanwhile, has all kinds of functions – it’s an antiviral, an antiseptic, an antibacterial and an antifungal.
  • Esberitox is a form of Echinacea that battles infection.
  • Supplements to enhance the intake of Vitamin C (which acts as an antiviral) and Vitamin E (which boosts the immune system) will kick the virus faster.
  • Nosodes fire up the immune system, and are believed to be particularly impactful in fighting kennel cough. If you’d rather something that can be picked up from the supermarket, you could try an olive leaf or raw garlic for their antiviral and antibacterial qualities. Tread carefully here though, especially with the garlic – too much could prove toxic.
  • Astragalus is a Chinese herb that works wonder for kennel cough, helping the immune system and improving the performance of the lungs.
  • You can try any of these – but remember, you may not be aware of an allergy that your dog could have to any of these remedies, and professional advice is always best.

Looking After a Dog with Kennel Cough

If your dog does have kennel cough, you’re going to want to want to ensure that you can make your poorly pooch as comfortable as possible while they recover.

Here are some ways that you can help your furry friend make a speedy recovery:

  • Keep a humidifier close to Fido’s bed. Your dog’s throat will be as dry as a bone if they have kennel cough, and we don’t mean the good kind that they like to chew on. A humidifier will add some moisture to the air around them, and make it easier to breathe. Also, make sure your dog is not exposed to anything else that will dry out or irritate their throat during they’re recovering. That means no smoking or spraying aerosols in the vicinity.
  • Supply plenty of fluids. Your dog will not get any better without taking in plenty of fluids, and adding dehydration to their list of health problems will not help anybody. The problem is that your dog might be reluctant to drink if they have a sore throat. If this is the case, trying tempting them into lapping up some tasty meaty broth (chicken or beef), or just convincing your hound to crunch on a couple of ice cubes. Of course, if they appear to be drinking excessively, that’s something else to keep one eye on!
  • Encourage sleep. Just like humans with the ‘flu, a dog will only get better from kennel cough by drinking plenty of fluids (as covered above), and getting plenty of rest. Go easy on Fido during this period and don’t insist on too much exercise. You’ll probably find that your dog is feeling sorry for themselves and is less active than normal anyway, and they will want to sleep away the sickness. If possible, pop your dog’s bed somewhere in the house where they won’t be disturbed quite as much, especially if you have young children, and they may be able to kick the condition quicker.
  • Get steamy. If you’ve had a bath or a shower and your bathroom is packed with steam, try to tempt your dog inside (having protected your modesty first, naturally). The steam will get into Fido’s nasal passages and throat, and maybe loosen up some of the mucus and associated gunk that is congealing there. It’s not going to be pretty, but your dog will feel much better afterward – and surely that’s the most important thing!

Overall, the take-home message of kennel cough is that while it’s rarely dangerous, it’s never even slightly enjoyable – for you or your dog, who will be just as sick of coughing as you are listening to it. See a vet to get the bout of sickness dealt with, and everybody will be happy and back their old selves before you know it.