Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel Cough is an extremely contagious upper respiratory infection, also known as Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC) and Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis. It affects the dog’s lungs, windpipe and voice box. While it may cause many uncomfortable symptoms for most dogs, usually only young puppies, geriatric dogs, and those with comprised immune systems are at risk of its life-threatening consequences. If not treated properly, pneumonia can set in and sometimes lead to death.

It is estimated that 80-90% of the cases of kennel cough are due to Bordetella bronchiseptica. The other 10-20% are caused by a variety of other infectious agents, most of them viral. They may include distemper, adenovirus type 2, parainfluenza, reovirus or herpes virus.

A scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicting a number of Gram-negative Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteriaIt can be spread through direct contact, via airborne transmission, or by sharing common items like play toys and water bowls. Dogs will start to show symptoms anywhere from three to ten days after exposure. Places where animals are kept in close quarters or come into contact with other dogs like shelters, boarding and grooming facilities, even outdoor play parks – are prime breeding grounds for the quick spread of an infection.

Shelter dogs are at a greater risk of infection due to increased stress and their general poorer health status on average to begin with. From personal experience, I know that when we brought Frazier home from the shelter, he already had pneumonia. However with stronger meds he recovered quickly.

Dogs living in stable homes are far less susceptible to kennel cough. In fact my dogs have never gotten sick. Healthy dogs may get kennel cough and never need treatment, they just get better on their own just like people with a cold, however a vet’s visit is always a must!

If you think that your dog may be infected, it is important to see your vet immediately. They will be able to determine a proper treatment option. The first symptom of kennel cough is a cough, usually hacking and unproductive at first; this can be followed by
loss of appetite and lethargy.

Heart disease symptoms are also similar to kennel cough. This should be considered, especially in older dogs. A medial injury like a collapsed trachea can also cause a hacking, barking cough similar to kennel cough.

Common symptoms include:

  • a dry, hacking cough – often with a “honking” sound
  • fever
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • runny nose
  • water eyes
  • low-grade fever

Some dogs may be carriers of this disease but show no symptoms themselves. Some dogs with an active infection may also appear perfectly normal and healthy, other than the fact that they are coughing all the time.

Most dogs recover from an infection within 3-4 weeks. However, dogs with elevated at-risk factors may take upwards of 6 weeks for a complete recovery. Even after a dog has recovered, they may still be a carrier of the disease for several more weeks.


  • Medication: Some of the most widely prescribed medications for Kennel Cough are Baytril, Doxycycline, and Clavamox. Canine cough medicines, such as Doxycycline, can provide some comfort.
  • Vitamins: For pet owners who prefer to avoid medications and antibiotics, some natural treatment options are available. “Vitamin C (L-ascorbate) will help strengthen the dog’s immune system, enabling him to combat Canine Kennel Cough faster and more effectively. You can give 500 mg per pound of body weight. You can also provide Vitamin E which will help support the dog’s immune system. Whenever you feed a dog vitamins, make sure he drinks plenty of water to help the nutrients move through his system.” [source]
  • Honey: A half to 1 teaspoon of honey several times a day should provide some relief for throat irritation
  • Herbs: Herbs and teas teas made from licorice root and marshmallow can also help alleviate some of the discomfort due to the constant coughing.
  • Recovery: Using a humidifier to generate moist air for your dogs’s environment can provide some relief for the dog’s irritated lungs, throat, and nasal passages. A steamy room, like a bathroom after a hot shower, can also help clear the dog’s airways.

Pet owners should also take extra care to use a harness rather than a collar when walking an affected dog because irritation of the tracheal can aggravate the cough and possibly even cause damage to the trachea.

A vaccine is available for Bordetella Bronchiseptica, which is the most common agent to cause kennel cough. It can be administered by injection and via a nasal spray vaccine.
It’s important to note that the vaccine does not cover all strains.
as soon as possible.

The answer here is not clear-cut. Kennel cough is really more of a syndrome than a specific disease. “It can be caused by a few different bacteria and viruses (and combinations thereof) that produce the same type of clinical signs. These pathogens include Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma, canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus-2, canine distemper virus and canine herpesvirus. Of these, only Bordetella bronchiseptica is a potential concern in terms of transmission to humans. Bordetella bronchiseptica can cause respiratory infections in people, but this is probalby quite rare and largely confined to high-risk individuals, like those with a weakened immune system, who have had their spleen removed, who already have underlying respiratory disease of another kind, and pregnant women. The evidence of transmission of B. bronchiseptica from pets to people is relatively weak and circumstantial – it is not clear whether the human Bordetella infections in these cases were truly due to contact with a pet.” [source]


What’s the Best Protection Against Kennel Cough? [healthypets]
Kennel Cough in Dogs [webmd]
How to Protect Your Dog From Kennel Cough [vetstreet]
Kennel Cough: Signs and Symptoms [pethealthnetwork]
Kennel Cough (Canine Cough) [petairapy]
Kennel Cough in Dogs – Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention [akc]
Kennel Cough [vetinfo]
Kennel Cough [wikipedia]
Can I get kennel cough from my dog? [wormsandgermsblog]


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