My Dog Has Kennel Cough: What Do I Need to Know?

Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.

Help! My Dog Has Kennel Cough

If your dog has kennel cough or infectious tracehobronchitis (ITB) as it is also called, you probably already know it by the sounds your pet is making.

Kennel cough is easily described, according to Dr. Cathy Alinovi of Hoofstock Veterinary Services, as a goose honk. To me it sounds like a cough with a hack at the end, like someone trying to cough up a loogie (ew, huh?). (See video below).

However, even though you may know your dog has kennel cough, you might be unsure about what to do next or how to protect your pet against future occurrences of ITB.

In the following interview, Dr. Cathy tells you more about the symptoms and causes of kennel cough as well as how it is treated and prevented.

What Does Kennel Cough Sound Like?

What Is the Kennel Cough Virus?

Dr. Cathy: The tricky thing about kennel cough is it’s not just one agent causing the disease. It starts out with one of two viruses causing a cough. When dogs get really sick, a bacterial infection is making the dog worse.

So, specifically, kennel cough is caused by one of two viruses: either parainfluenza virus or adenovirus, type 2. (Other viruses can also cause kennel cough, just not commonly.) Then, sometimes Bordatella bronchiseptica, the nasty bacterium that really causes problems, invades and makes the coughing dog much sicker.

Typically, the kennel cough incubation period is from 2 to 14 days. Usually, kennel cough lasts one to two weeks. However, I’ve seen it last six weeks.

Can a Dog Die From Kennel Cough?

In severe cases, with secondary invasion of the Bordatella bronchiseptica bacterium, mild illness can turn into pneumonia; which can definitely be life-threatening.

What Are the Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs?

Dr. Cathy: In uncomplicated kennel cough, the only symptom is the cough. Sometimes, these dogs also hack up a bit of mucus/phlegm. In complicated cases, the dog will have a cough, get a fever, lose its appetite, and it may even progress to pneumonia

It is highly contagious to the unvaccinated and stressed out dog. Dogs who’ve been infected with kennel cough are contagious up to four months.

Can Puppies Get Kennel Cough?

Dr. Cathy: Puppies in crowded situations are at very high risk. Shelters can’t help but struggle to prevent kennel cough problems because of many animals, poor ventilation, stress, and unknown history.

So, even though shelters vaccinate the animals upon arrival, it takes the immune system four days to respond to the vaccine, and it takes 2-14 days to become ill with the actual disease. It’s a race to see who wins.

What Can I Give My Dog for Kennel Cough?

Dr. Cathy: Typically, kennel cough is “treated” with antibiotics and/or a cough suppressant. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Antibiotics don’t treat viral infections, while they do treat bacterial infections. Coughing actually helps move mucus and bacteria out of the lungs.

If we suppress the cough, the mucus, with the potentially invasive bacteria, does not get moved out of the lungs. Some pet owners just need a break from their dog coughing all the time. So, sometimes, a short course of cough suppressant will at least help the family sleep (I don’t recommend it long-term).

The Kennel Cough Vaccine

Dr. Cathy: There are now three ways to vaccinate against kennel cough. The most common vaccine is given in the nose (intra-nasal). Some dogs have a major dislike for things in their nose and may become aggressive. For these dogs, the injectable (parenteral) vaccine is used.

Recently, an oral vaccine was developed that is easier to give than the intra-nasal version. What’s the difference? The intra-nasal version has the reputation of the best immunity, which develops in four days. The injectable version needs to be boostered within 30 days to have any benefit. The newest version, the oral vaccine, is probably the best option for more aggressive dogs so they get better immunity.

Another interesting thing about the vaccines: most kennel cough vaccines vaccinate against parainfluenza and/or adenovirus and Bordatella bronchiseptica. Many boarding kennels require annual or semi-annual revaccination.

Many studies show that once dogs are vaccinated against parainfluenza and adenovirus the dog has immunity to these viruses for at least six years, if not life. Published studies looking at duration of immunity for kennel cough only look as far as one year whereas the components are documented to give many years of protection.

What Are Some Kennel Cough Vaccine Side Effects?

Dr. Cathy: There are definitely people who think giving the vaccine causes problems, especially in those dogs who were exposed to live kennel cough at the time of vaccination. It says right on the box of Bronchi Shield III 25X1 : “A very small percentage of animals may show sneezing, coughing or nasal discharge following vaccination. There signs are usually transient.”

Kennel Cough Home Remedies

Dr. Cathy: Home remedies are the nice, feel-good things that help anyone coughing feel better. Honey is well known to moisten and soothe the throat. Vitamin C and echinacea and can give the immune system that little boost it needs. Chicken soup—mmm—helps with hydration, tastes good, and is warming (the made from scratch version).

What Else Do You Want to Tell Pet Parents About Kennel Cough?

Dr. Cathy: My usual treatment method for uncomplicated kennel cough is a nice herbal anti-viral like Yin Qiao (this sometimes spelled Chiao and has been used to treat coughs since 1798), high-quality real food, and plenty to drink. I caution the family that if there is any worsening of signs to call right away so we don’t end up with a secondary bacterial infection.

There are other treatment methods available. Homeopathy does a nice job of treating—however, your homeopath needs a very detailed description of the cough to choose the right remedy— and depends on the presence of mucus and other symptoms. Acupuncture/pressure can help with the cough.

Reference sources

  • Dr. Cathy Alinovi is the retired owner of Hoofstock Veterinary Services, Hoopeson Clinic, and co-author of a cookbook for pets called Dinner PAWsible.
  • Packaging information, Bronchi Shield III 25X1

Why You Should Work With Your Veterinarian

This veterinary medical information is based on information provided during a telephone interview with a professional, qualified, retired veterinarian. However, it is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian.

Recommendations as to therapeutics, diagnostics and best standards of practice in the veterinary industry and/or opinions between professionals may differ or change as technologies and information changes. You should not use this article as your sole source of information on any matter of veterinary health or attempt to self-diagnose or treat your pets as the information herein may not be appropriate for your pet. The safest option for you and your pet is to rely on the advice of your veterinarian to diagnose and recommend the best treatment options.

© 2013 Donna Cosmato

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on April 22, 2013:

Thank you for reading this dog health hub and leaving your feedback, dogfond. The use of natural remedies is usually preferable whenever possible, aren't they? I'm glad you found this useful.

dogfond on April 21, 2013:

Hi Donna, another great hub! I've been following you and I should say this is another interesting hub, very detailed and informative. Kennel cough symptoms can be very frustrating but it could go naturally on his own. I really don't give my dogs antibiotics or other drugs but home remedies are very helpful to stay on the safe side.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on January 31, 2013:

Thank you for the positive feedback Minnetonka Twin! I'm so glad your dog is better now, and thank you for reading this hub and voting it up.

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on January 30, 2013:

Excellent article on Kennel Cough. You did a thorough job of educating your readers on this problem. One of my two adopted dogs came home with kennel cough. It sounded so bad that we got really scared and brought him into the vet. She basically said he would be fine within a couple weeks and that's exactly what happened. I voted up and hit many buttons.

7 Things Every Dog Parent Should Know About Kennel Cough

How much do you really know about kennel cough?

You may have heard it referred to as Bordetella, since Bordetella bronchiseptica is one of the most common causes of kennel cough. You may have been told your dog is required to have been vaccinated against it before going to doggy daycare or even the groomer. But would you know if your dog got it? Do you really need to go to the vet if they start coughing? What is the treatment like? What causes it, and does the vaccine even work?

Here are 7 things every dog parent should know about kennel cough.

#1 – It has many different causes

Like the common cold in humans, kennel cough can be caused by a variety of different viruses and bacteria, and is frequently the result of more than one pathogen attacking the body at the same time. Kennel cough is caused by a dog inhaling bacteria or viruses into their upper respiratory tract, especially if the lungs are already overworked by cold air, cigarette smoke, stress, or crowded quarters with poor ventilation. The upper respiratory tract is usually lined with mucus, which helps to trap particles that might cause infections, which is why kennel cough is often caused by multiple pathogens – one weakens the mucus in the lungs, allowing the other to take root and cause an infection.

#2 – It’s highly contagious

As infected dogs cough, the virus or bacteria gets spread around the environment where other dogs inhale the pathogen and become sick. Airborne pathogens like this are much more difficult to control than diseases where dogs need to have direct contact with each other in order to pass contagious diseases, since one dog only has to sniff an area where an infected dog had been to contract kennel cough.

#3 – The primary symptom is a cough that sounds like a goose honk

Kennel cough produces a very distinctive-sounding cough that often sounds like a goose honk. Coughing sounds that lack this sound may be symptoms of reverse sneezing or another medical condition instead.

Reverse sneezing is a series of quickly inhaled breaths, usually seen in smaller dogs, that tends to be the result of post-nasal drip. Some dogs will only experience coughing with kennel cough, and others may experience other symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, or eye discharge. Severe symptoms may include retching, lethargy, and fever.

#4 – Vaccines can reduce the odds of getting it or reduce symptoms

While the vaccine is not 100% effective, it can greatly reduce the odds of your dog contracting the illness if he is frequently in conditions that tend to spread the disease, such as doggy daycare. Even if your dog does catch kennel cough, the symptoms will likely be less than if your dog hadn’t been vaccinated. The vaccine is available in oral, intranasal, and injected forms.

#5 – It can progress to pneumonia or even death

It’s mistakenly believed by some that kennel cough is a minor malady that doesn’t require a trip to the vet. While kennel cough can be a relatively minor problem, it can progress to pneumonia or death, especially in dogs that already have weakened immune systems. It’s better to be safe than sorry and take your dog to the vet at the first symptoms of kennel cough, rather than waiting until it has progressed to something worse. Plus, why make your pup suffer with all that coughing?

#6 – Treatments vary based on the severity of the symptoms

While mild kennel cough may only require rest and a cough suppressant, severe kennel cough may require antibiotics or supportive care. Only your vet can determine what kind of treatment your dog requires for kennel cough.

#7 – Coughing may indicate something worse than kennel cough

It may be tempting to attribute any coughing to a mild form of kennel cough, but coughing can be a symptom of some major health issues, such as a collapsing trachea, canine distemper, canine influenza, bronchitis, asthma, or even heart disease. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and take your dog to the vet any time they have a cough rather than assume it’s no big deal.

As always, after the holiday season, I get the pleasure of treating more puppies than usual at my animal hospital. I love this time of year because the hospital is filled with playful, happy and healthy puppies. It is also the time of year when many people travel and drop their pets off for boarding. With all the adorable new puppies and lots of boarding pets, I see more cases of infectious tracheobronchitis, otherwise known as kennel cough or Bordetella.

For the most part, kennel cough is not a serious disease, and most pets overcome this illness quickly. However, in certain circumstances, kennel cough can progress to more serious diseases such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. So today, I would like to take a moment to discuss what kennel cough is, what clinical signs to look for, and how to treat pets suffering from kennel cough so you can ensure your pet is at optimal health.

What Is Kennel Cough?

Infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) is an upper respiratory infection in dogs that is caused by canine parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica. These two pathogens (or infectious agents) attack the lining of the trachea and respiratory tract, resulting in inflammation and irritation of the upper airway. This inflammation results in a dry cough. Kennel cough is not usually a serious disease and resolves quickly. However, in certain circumstances, animals can become more susceptible to a secondary infection and more serious diseases, such as pneumonia. If you see kennel cough symptoms, like hearing your dog coughing or cat coughing, it is important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian.

What Causes Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is a virus that is extremely contagious. It can be transmitted by germs released into the air when an animal coughs, by direct contact with an infected animal, or by sharing contaminated objects. This disease is most common in areas where many dogs or cats are present, such as boarding facilities, grooming facilities, pet stores, animal shelters, pet rescues and breeders with many puppies. However, do not let the common name, kennel cough, fool you. Pets can transmit the disease simply by going on a walk around the block or by drinking from a contaminated water source.

What Are Some Kennel Cough Symptoms?

The most common clinical signs of kennel cough are:

  • Persistent nonproductive cough that sounds like something is caught in their throat (loud honking cough).
  • If uncomplicated, they are playing, eating and drinking normally.
  • A more serious cough develops after your pet exercises or gets excited.

How Do You Diagnose Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is diagnosed by excluding other diseases or illnesses. This means that there are no specific tests to diagnose kennel cough. Your veterinarian will rule out other, more serious diseases, and then diagnose kennel cough based upon clinical signs and the history of exposure (newly acquired pets from a pet store, breeder or shelter, or pets that have recently been to a groomer, dog park, training classes or a boarding facility). Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination, assessing your pet’s heart and lungs as well as other organ systems.

How Do You Treat Kennel Cough?

In mild cases, no treatment is necessary. Generally, kennel cough is self-limiting and will run its course within 7-14 days, as long as your pet is active, eating and drinking with just an isolated cough. In more severe cases or in pets that are immunocompromised (young puppies or elderly pets), antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent secondary, more complicated infections such as pneumonia. Cough suppressants, either over-the-counter or prescribed, can help with the discomfort of coughing. If at any time your pets becomes listless, does not want to eat, is lethargic, has difficulty breathing or develops severe green discharge, have your pet examined by your veterinarian immediately.

How Do I Prevent My Dog From Getting Kennel Cough?

There are vaccinations to protect your pet from kennel cough. They are available in an injectable, intra-nasal and oral form. Although these vaccinations are not 100% effective in preventing all strands of kennel cough infection, they provide good protection and decrease the severity of clinical signs if your pet were to become infected. I advise all my pet parents to have their pet vaccinated for kennel cough.

A strong immune system will also help your pet be less susceptible to illnesses like kennel cough. To give your pet a boost in immunity, try Zesty Paws Allergy Immune Bites. Remember that your pet can become infected with kennel cough by just simply walking around the block. Speak with your veterinarian regarding what is best for your pet.

I hope this article helps all my pet parents out there to be more aware of kennel cough, the clinical signs to look for, and how we can protect our pets. Use caution when bringing your pets to areas with many dogs, and make sure your pet is protected with the Bordetella vaccination. My goal is to always keep our pets safe and healthy. If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian. They are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Kennel Cough: Symptoms, Treatments & Prevention

Dr. Justine Lee

Dr. Lee, DACVECC, DABT is a board-certified veterinary specialist in emergency care (DACVECC) & toxicology (DABT).

My dog has a hacking cough…does my dog have kennel cough?

If your dog has a hacking cough, what do you need to know? Before you reach for that bottle of Robitussin for your dog, read on!

If your dog has a cough, chances are, someone is going to tell you that your dog has “kennel cough.” But what exactly is kennel cough? Let me fill you in on something. “Kennel cough” is a term that is way overused – and inappropriately used too – even by veterinary medical professionals! Most of the time, this infectious cough is due to a huge complex of diseases and is actually called “Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRD).” While that’s a mouthful, the point is that more than one type of organism can cause coughing in dogs. While one of the bacterial organisms that cause kennel cough is Bordetella bronchiseptica, CIRD is made up of several other viruses and bacteria.

Ultimately, any of these infections can cause a canine infectious tracheobronchitis in your dog, meaning that your dog’s upper airway (e.g., mouth, oropharynx, voice box, upper trachea) are really inflamed and irritated. In severe cases, the infection can migrate and progress down to the lower airways (e.g., lungs) resulting in more severe signs (e.g., pneumonia). Also, please be aware that there are other medical causes for coughing, like congestive heart failure, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, etc. and you should always seek veterinary attention to be safe!

What causes “kennel cough?”

The underlying causes/infectious agents for Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease include:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (again, informally called “kennel cough”)
  • Canine parainfluenza virus
  • Canine influenza (e.g., H3N8, H3N2)
  • Mycoplasma bacteria
  • Canine adenovirus type 2
  • Canine herpesvirus
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus
  • Streptococcusequi subspecies zooepidemicus bacteria
  • Canine distemper virus (rare, but dependent on vaccine status and outbreaks)
  • Pneumovirus

How did my dog get kennel cough (or more accurately, CIRD)?

Most of the time, your dog caught CIRD directly from the respiratory tract of an infected dog. In other words, by bodily fluids, such as the saliva spray of fluid coming out of a dog’s hacking cough, sneezing, or runny nose! (It’s estimated that the aerosol spray from a dog sneezing can reach 6-12 feet!) If your dog is really “social” and interacts with a lot of other dogs at doggy daycare, puppy classes, dog shows, dog kennels, animal shelters, boarding kennels, or agility training courses, your dog is at increased risk for CIRD.

Younger dogs seem to be more likely to get CIRD, as older dogs have a stronger immune system to protect themselves. Because CIRD is so infectious, your dog can even rarely get it at your veterinary clinic (which is why you often get “triaged” and moved into an exam room immediately, away from the crowded waiting room)! Rarely, other causes of CIRD can be shed from feces (e.g., distemper) or through contained “fomites” (e.g., direct contact with things that can spread it, like community dog water or food bowls, grooming equipment, etc.).

What are the signs of kennel cough (CIRD) in dogs?

Symptoms of kennel cough in dogs include:

  • Harsh cough (especially when pulling on a collar) or hacking cough
  • A goose honk or honking cough, especially when light pressure is applied to the trachea (windpipe) area
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Increased respiratory effort
  • Panting all the time
  • Exercise intolerance or shortness of breath on walks
  • Sneezing
  • Gagging/retching
  • Attempting to vomit
  • Eye discharge
  • Nose discharge
  • Decreased appetite progressing to not eating at all
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing to secondary respiratory infection (e.g., pneumonia)
  • Blue gums (rare)
  • Diarrhea (rare)

My dog was just diagnosed with kennel cough (CIRD)! What should I do?

Most of the time, the true diagnosis of “CIRD” is based on history, exposure, clinical symptoms, and physical examination findings from your veterinarian. Thankfully, most dogs diagnosed with CIRD do well. Most of the time, your dog doesn’t require hospitalization, as just supportive care and the “tincture of time” make them better! Most dogs will go home after some fluids under the skin, an oral antibiotic (for about 10-14 days), cough suppressants,* careful monitoring, and strict isolation from other dogs.

*Before you or your veterinarian start a cough suppressant (like Robitussin, guaifenesin, hydrocodone, etc.), you have to make sure your dog does NOT have pneumonia in the lower airways/lungs. This is because giving a cough suppressant when your dog has pneumonia is really bad for your dog – it could potentially make the pneumonia worse!

What tests does my dog need if they’re diagnosed with kennel cough (or CIRD)?

Most of the time, tests aren’t necessary if your dog has a mild, weaker form of CIRD. However, sometimes chest x-rays and other tests are necessary in the following situations:

  • In dogs with signs that aren’t getting better in a few days with oral antibiotics
  • If your dog has more severe signs (e.g., fever, not eating, constantly hacking or coughing, etc.)
  • If it’s a young puppy who has a weak immune system to start

While it’s not SUPER common, in about 10% of cases that I see of CIRD, I can see a severe lower airway pneumonia. This can be life-threatening from difficulty breathing and lack of oxygen. When I do see this severe, secondary pneumonia in the veterinary ER, it’s often in young, immunosuppressed puppies (especially English Bulldog puppies).

With these more severe situations, I recommend doing blood work to make sure that there’s not a more severe infection that is advancing into the lower airway or lungs (e.g., pneumonia). Specific tests (e.g., a canine respiratory panel) can be done to look for the bacteria or viruses that cause CIRD this typically involves a throat swap or culture of fluid from the upper airway or lungs (sounds similar to COVID-19 testing!). This is the best way to find out if your dog has CIRD, how infectious your dog may be, or, if there’s a dog flu outbreak in your area. When in doubt, talk to your veterinarian about testing to accurately diagnose CIRD.

What treatment does my dog need if they have severe kennel cough (or CIRD)?

In severe cases of CIRD, your dog may require hospitalization if needed, additional therapy may include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • IV fluid therapy
  • IV antibiotics
  • Anti-vomiting medication
  • Antitussives (e.g., cough suppressants) if pneumonia is absent
  • Nebulization and coupage to help break up the pneumonia in the lungs
  • Nutritional support
  • Isolation away from other dogs

So, what can I do at home if my dog has kennel cough (or CIRD)?

  • Buy a humidifier. If your dog sleeps with you, consider using a humidifier in the bedroom to help hydrate the nasal passages. This will make it easier to wipe away the nose crusts!
  • Use an antitussive (anti-coughing medication) ONLY if approved by your veterinarian.
  • Quarantine time! As CIRD is highly infectious, you want to keep your dog away from dog parks, doggy daycare, kennels, veterinary hospitals, etc. In fact, please don’t take your dog off your property for a full 2-6 weeks, as the causes of CIRD are so contagious to other dogs!

Again, while it’s rare for your dog to get really sick from kennel cough or CIRD, please know that you should always visit a veterinarian to be safe.

Prognosis & Prevention

The prognosis for kennel cough or CIRD in dogs is good with supportive care. Try the home remedies above if you think your dog has a mild case of infectious kennel cough/CIRD, but if in doubt, take your dog to the veterinarian.

Also, remember that keeping your dog up to date on vaccines that help protect them and keep them healthy is the best way to prevent CIRD to begin with. Several of the causes of CIRD are preventable with vaccination including Bordetella, parainfluenza and dog flu. Again, this is especially important if your dog is a social dog! This is one of the reasons why boarding facilities require that your dog be up to date on vaccines prior to being kenneled. Please be aware that there are several types of vaccines, including an intranasal or oral Bordetella vaccine. Personally, I prefer the intranasal ones that also protect for parainfluenza, as these protect the area needed the most (e.g., the nose!) and creates “local immunity.”

When it comes to our four-legged family members, it’s not worth the risk of your dog getting sick – even if it’s just a mild case!

Watch the video: Poor baby; This is what Trachea Collapse looks like (July 2021).