Kennel Cough in Dogs: Symptomes, Causes and Treatment

Kennel Cough in Dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Having a sick dog is not something any dog owner looks forward to. It can be troubling to see your ailing dog and having no clue how to make them feel better. A nap with some chicken soup does well for humans, but dogs aren’t so fortunate to be able to receive such attention. Kennel cough in dogs is one such condition that your dog can suffer from.

The first signs that your dog may have the disease are if you notice him hacking away or constantly making noises as if he’s choking. It can sound like a terrible disease, but many dogs have recovered without treatment. But that doesn’t mean it’s a fun experience for anyone involved.

What exactly is kennel cough?

Kennel cough can be considered similar to a common cold in humans, as there are multiple causes of the disease. One of the most common sources of infection is a bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica. This has led to kennel cough being referred to as Bordetella, as well as tracheobronchitis. Many dogs who are infected with the bacterium contract a virus as well. These viruses have been known to make dogs more susceptible to the Bordetella infection.


These viruses include:

  • Canine adenovirus: this is related to the hepatitis virus, and is spread from dog to dog through respiratory secretions, or contact with contaminated feces or urine. Signs of adenovirus include dry hacking cough, retching, conjunctivitis, and coughing up white foamy discharge.
  • Canine distemper virus: this is a viral disease that affects several of the dog’s systems, such as respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, the spinal cord, and the brain. Symptoms include high fever, eye inflammation, discharge from the eyes and nose, labored breathing, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, and hardening of the nose and foot pads.
  • Canine herpes virus: this is a viral infection that affects the reproductive organs of dogs. When infected, they don’t show any symptoms until a dog’s first litter. It causes the death of newborn puppies, who die with little to no warning typically within 24 hours.
  • Parainfluenza virus: this is a highly contagious respiratory virus and is one of the most common sources for kennel cough. The symptoms appear similar to canine influenza, but they are caused by two different viruses. Symptoms include coughing, low-grade fever, nasal discharge, lack of energy, and a loss of appetite.
  • Canine reovirus: this is a group of viruses that contain double-stranded DNA, and have special characteristics in respect to their genetic material. An infection of a reovirus typically results in the prevention of the absorption of nutrients from the intestines, resulting in dehydration and diarrhea, but symptoms will vary depending on the kind of reovirus. It is transmitted through contact with infected feces or inhalation of the virus particles.
    Other symptoms include irritation and inflammation of the nose, cold-like symptoms, infection of the respiratory tract, and infection of the brain tissue.

How is kennel cough contracted?

The respiratory tract of your dog is lined with mucous, which is used to catch infectious particles and prevent them from getting to the lungs. When contracting kennel cough, your dog inhales the bacteria or virus that causes the disease. There are a number of factors that increase his chances of contracting the disease by weakening his immune system. These factors include:

  • exposure to poorly ventilated areas, such as kennels and shelters
  • cold temperatures
  • exposure to dust and/or cigarette smoke
  • travel-induced stress

If you’re interested in boarding your dog or taking him with you on vacations, it’s always recommended that you choose to have him vaccinated for the disease beforehand.

Symptoms of kennel cough

One of the most noticeable symptoms of the disease is a persistent, forceful cough in your dog that sounds much like a goose honk. This is not the same as reverse sneezing, which is common in some breeds of dogs, especially small ones. Other symptoms that you may notice are sneezing, runny nose, possible eye discharge, and fever.

Decreased appetite and energy levels are also common symptoms. Symptoms start presenting themselves within 2-14 days after exposure, and may not seem serious, but they can be quite annoying for a dog. The best thing to do for your dog before you take him to the vet is to provide good nutrition and to allow him to have plenty of rest.

Dog coughing

Death as a result of kennel cough is typically rare, but it isn’t impossible if young, unvaccinated puppies have been exposed. The disease can affect young puppies more seriously, and can result in rapid dehydration from fever and overall weakness. This can be compromising to their health, especially when they need to eat in order to help their immune systems to combat the disease.

Diagnose and treatment

A diagnosis is arrived at by looking at the symptoms and examining a history of exposure to other dogs. Bacterial cultures will be done, as well as viral isolation and blood work in order to isolate the source of the disease, but because of the nature of these symptoms, these tests are rarely ever performed.

Kennel cough is highly contagious, which makes it easy to spread from dog to dog if they are in close contact with each other. It’s best to keep your dog away from other animals if you start noticing symptoms and take him to your vet immediately.

Many cases of kennel cough will resolve themselves without any treatment, but medications can speed up recovery and help your dog to feel more comfortable in the long run. Cough medicines are typically described to deal with mild cases. Antibiotics are only used to treat more severe cases, such as if there are signs of pneumonia, fever, or a lack of appetite. Keeping your dog in a well-humidified area can help to clear up his lungs, as well as choosing to use a harness instead of a collar when taking him on walks.

Diagnosis and treatment

There are also three available vaccines that can be provided to dogs. One is injected, one is delivered through a nasal mist, and the third is given orally. These vaccines have been known to help, but they do not guarantee any protection against kennel cough due to the fact that there are so many causes for the disease. These vaccines also won’t treat active infections. These are usually given to dogs once a year, but they can be given every six months for dogs who are at a higher risk, such as those who are boarded.

Even after your dog has been treated, he will continue to shed the bacteria for an additional 6 to 14 weeks afterwards. This makes it easy for the disease to be spread to other animals, even after your dog has been fully treated.

For people who are running kennels or dog shelters, strict hygiene is extremely important in order for the disease to be contracted by other dogs. Thorough cleaning and disinfection of the kennels, and food and water containers is essential. There should be good ventilation provided throughout the kennel with an air turnover rate of at least 12 times per hour.

Any animals that contract the disease should be isolated, and handlers should wear gloves at all times and wash their hands after every interaction with an infected dog. In order to avoid an outbreak, it is recommended that you not admit dogs who haven’t been vaccinated against the disease.

Are there home remedies?

If your dog doesn’t have a severe form of the disease, then there are some home remedies that you can provide in order to make him more comfortable in the process.

Cough Syrup Medicine For Dogs

These treatments won’t eliminate the disease, but they can provide relief for your dog in the meantime.

  • Vitamin C: if you choose not to give your dog antibiotics, then vitamin C can help to strengthen your dog’s immune system to help him combat kennel cough a lot faster and more effectively. You can provide 500 mg per body weight, but ensure that he continued to receive plenty of water to help the nutrients to move through his system.
  • Honey: honey can be used to help soothe your dog’s throat from the constant coughing. It can result in the mucous lining of the respiratory tract to be dry, irritated, swollen and cracked. Honey is also packed with plenty of nutrients that can help your dog to combat disease and provide relief. One half to one tablespoon of honey should be provided several times a day. Be sure not to provide too often, as the sugar content in honey is extremely high.
  • Herbal tea: herbal teas, especially those made from licorice, can be extremely helpful in soothing your dog’s sore throat, as well as helping to combat the disease. You can mix a small amount of herbal tea into your dog’s food, as it is extremely safe and pose no risk in harming your dog’s health.
  • Cough medicine: you can purchase cough medicine from the pet store in order to provide relief for your dog’s cough. You can ask your vet to recommend the best products so that you know which ones can handle your dog’s illness.

How long does kennel cough last?

If left untreated, your dog can recover from kennel cough within three weeks. However, for some dogs, it can take as much as six weeks, especially if they are a lot older or suffer from other medical conditions. It is not recommended that you leave your dog untreated, however. Not only is this frustrating for your dog to deal with, but it can also lead to pneumonia.

If your dog doesn’t improve in an expected amount of time, or if you notice rapid breathing, lack of appetite, or listlessness, then you should take him to the vet.

Secondary infections

Other than pneumonia, there are other diseases that your dog could contract, due to a compromised immune system and respiratory tracts. Some of these infections and diseases include:

  • Streptococcus: this bacterial infection is more easily contracted by young puppies and dogs with poor immune systems. Some of the causes for the disease include viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, and enters a wound or is contracted through a surgical procedure. Symptoms include pain, fever, lethargy, coughing, arthritis, pneumonia, abscesses, and difficulty swallowing.
  • Pasteurella: the disease is present in a large percentage of dog’s mouths, even in healthy animals. They can result in a disease under the right circumstances, and can spread from dog to dog through coughing and sneezing. Once infected, some symptoms of the disease include ear infections, nasal and sinus infections, joint infections, eye infections, infection of the tissues covering the brain, and infection and accumulation of pus inside the chest cavity.
  • Pseudonomas: this bacterial infection results in painful conditions in your dog’s ears. One of the leading symptoms is a very strong odor, and typically there is a lot of drainage or pus. Other symptoms include frequent scratching of the ear and shaking of the head, pain in and around the ear, redness and swelling, and ulcers within the ear. Antibiotics usually work to treat the condition.
  • Coliforms: these bacteria are commonly found in regards to the sanitary quality of foods and water. They are not commonly the source of serious illnesses, but they are easy to culture and their presence typically indicates that there are other pathogens of fecal origin present.

These diseases also lead to pneumonia or sepsis (whole-body inflammatory response to an infection), which can severely increase the symptoms of the disease.

Kennel cough medicine

These can be discovered through thoracic radiographic examinations.

Is there any risk posed to humans?

For a long time, kennel cough was not considered as a health threat that was posed to humans. However, recent research has shown that the bacteria responsible for the disease may cause it in humans, especially those who have compromised immune systems. This includes children and those who are immunocompromised, whether by illness or medications. These categories of people should avoid contact with dogs who are showing symptoms of the disease.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.