dogs passing illness

All About Kennel Cough in Dogs

Vet-Checked • Pet-Tested • Owner-Approved

Kate Barrington

Researched & Written by

Kate Barrington

At EasyPet, we are committed to presenting the most accurate and up-to-date information to assist you in your pet care journey. When appropriate, we consult licensed and practicing veterinarians to fact-check our professionally written articles.

If dogs were capable of catching a cold just as easily as humans do, it would be on par with kennel cough.

The highly contagious respiratory disease spreads quickly through dogs that are at risk, and although it’s treatable, it can cause issues for your pooch.

What is kennel cough?

Canine infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as kennel cough, is a contagious respiratory disease that affects dogs. The name ‘kennel cough’ is given to the disease because of how easily it spreads through confined spaces like kennels and is similar to the common cold for canines.

As dog owners, we want to do everything possible to ensure our pets are taken care of, and that means arming ourselves with information that can protect them against disease.

Kennel cough might not be one of the more severe conditions that an otherwise healthy dog can pick up, it can affect their quality of life, so it’s important to understand the risks and prevention.

Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel cough is a respiratory disease that affects dogs, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis.

This highly contagious illness is often compared to the common cold in human beings, and it’s usually spread in areas where lots of dogs congregate or live, hence its nickname of ‘kennel cough’.

A dog with infectious tracheobronchitis will be able to spread the illness with airborne droplets, through contaminated surfaces like water bowls, and from direct contact with another dog. The severity of the condition will depend on each dog and their physical condition, but it’s usually a treatable disease.

There is a vaccine available for kennel cough and this remains the best protection against the disease and helps to resist Bordetella bacterium, which is the leading cause. You should also be cautious of your dog when they’re in public and shared spaces with other pets.

Vaccination for this disease is common these days, and as such, the rate of the disease is going down, with the modern approach using an applicator through the nostril or an injectable vaccine to administer it.

Some dogs might be more susceptible to catching canine infectious tracheobronchitis, and in these cases, they will need a strategic booster in addition to the regular booster that other dogs receive.

Likewise, many kennels and shared accommodations will require proof of vaccination before your dog can attend, in an effort to protect all of the canines there.

Signs and Symptoms

Sick dog

Canine kennel cough can be hard to differentiate from other illnesses, which is why it’s crucial to take your dog to their veterinarian at the first sign of something being wrong.

These are some of the more common symptoms of kennel cough that should be followed up with a visit to the vet.

  • Distinct cough that makes a honking sound;
  • Lethargy or sleeping more than usual;
  • Loss of appetite or refusal to eat altogether;
  • Runny nose and sneezing;
  • Low grade fever;

As you can see, many of the symptoms of kennel cough are similar to what a human might experience with the common cold. The most pressing and obvious symptom is the cough that makes a honking sound, and this is the telltale sign for most vets.

One of the things that makes kennel cough so hard to diagnose is that the symptoms mimic other serious illnesses, including canine influenza and canine distemper virus.

All of these begin with a distinctive cough and they each require urgent treatment from a vet, as well as other conditions like heart disease and a collapsing trachea that could be causing them to cough.

The Consequences of Kennel Cough

Kennel cough used to be a lot more common than it is today, and thanks to the higher rates of vaccination and dog owner’s awareness of it, its numbers have been steadily declining.

However, if your dog does manage to catch kennel cough, it’s not exactly going to be a walk in the park.

The biggest issue with kennel cough is that a young puppy, immunocompromised dog, unvaccinated, or otherwise unwell dog will contract it. Rather than being a generally mild illness that your pooch gets over in a few weeks, kennel cough can be fatal for these dogs or make them very sick.

As responsible owners, it’s important to get your dog vaccinated for all diseases that your veterinarian recommends, including kennel cough.

This way, you’re able to protect your dog and ensure those that can’t be vaccinated for whatever reason are less likely to contract the illness as well. Even if your dog doesn’t frequent public places or stay at boarding kennels, it’s still the smart thing to do.

For those households who can’t avoid keeping their dog at kennels or daycare facilities, you’ll want to let your vet know about their lifestyle.

They may be able to come up with a prevention plan that includes booster shots of the vaccine to keep them safe and ensure that the facility has a procedure in place that guarantees all dogs who use their services are vaccinated as well.

Feeding, Care, and Treatment

Dog vaccination

Taking care of a pooch with kennel cough would be akin to taking care of your child who was home with a cough.

You’ll want to ensure they’re eating as much as possible, getting lots of rest, drinking fresh water throughout the day, and not using a lead during walks but holding them with a harness instead.

A mild case of kennel cough won’t last longer than a week or two, without needing any further measures. However, if your vet is concerned, they may prescribe your dog some antibiotics so that they don’t develop a secondary infection from their kennel cough. They might also provide medication to relieve the coughing if your dog is particularly uncomfortable or the cough is affecting their quality of life.

In serious cases, a veterinarian may need to provide your dog with some sort of breathing apparatus. A nebulizer or vaporizer can improve their airways and deliver antibiotics to them through this method, which will relieve symptoms for your dog.

Most importantly, you should keep your dog at home and away from other pets as much as possible. If you have other pooches in the house, assume that they have the disease as well and avoid contact with others.

When their symptoms clear up and they have been okayed by their vet, you can resume normal activities like going to the local dog park and visiting doggy daycare.

Keeping the Cough Away

Thanks to the wonders of modern veterinary science and the accessibility of an effective vaccine the rate of kennel cough has dropped significantly in recent times.

However, you should still be vigilant and monitor for signs and symptoms to prevent your dog from experiencing this unpleasant respiratory disease.

Related Questions

Many diseases and illnesses are lurking out there that can affect our dogs, and it’s our job as their owners to be aware of them.

If you want to find out more about other infectious diseases that your dog could be vulnerable to, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions that can help.

What Dog Illnesses Are Contagious To Other Dogs?

Not all diseases that dogs get are capable of spreading to others, but some like ringworm, mange, kennel cough, and influenza are.

To prevent your dog from catching or spreading these, you should avoid using shared brushes and bedding, and keep their immunizations up to date.

Is Canine Parvovirus Infectious?

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious disease that affects dogs, and you should avoid any dogs that have been diagnosed with it.

There is a vaccine available to dogs to protect against this disease which they can get from four months of age, so any younger puppies should be kept at home until they’ve been immunized.

How Contagious Is Ringworm From Dog to Human?

Although rare, it is possible for a human to contract ringworm just by touching a dog that has the condition.

This can be done when the human has broken skin that comes into contact with the infected skin of the dog, so care should be taken when touching a canine or handling the bedding of a canine that has a suspected case of ringworm.

Why Is My Dog Coughing?

A dog that develops a regular cough should be examined by a veterinarian to determine the cause. Some of the most common reasons for an ongoing canine cough are chronic bronchitis, infectious tracheobronchitis, heartworm disease, and heart disease.

Other times, it may be caused by a fungal, viral, or bacterial infection, and requires medical attention.


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