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Kennel cough in dogs: symptoms, treatment, and prevention

Kennel cough in dogs is both common and contagious, infecting the upper airways and causing discomfort. We outline possible causes and prevention methods to keep your dog comfortable and healthy.

Kennel cough in dogs: symptoms, treatment, and prevention

Kennel cough: that honking, hacking, cough-like sound coming from your dog. Unpleasant? Yes. Cause for concern? Sometimes. 
Kennel cough in dogs is common, and is also contagious. It infects the upper airways, causing discomfort for your pup, and sometimes, serious complications.
But don’t fret. Kennel cough is something that your Juno vet can care for.

Let’s go over what we know, including symptoms, treatment and how to prevent kennel cough in the first place. 

Table of contents

  • What is kennel cough?
  • Is kennel cough serious?
  • What are the symptoms of kennel cough?
  • How is kennel cough transmitted?
  • How is kennel cough diagnosed?
  • Treatment for kennel cough
  • Preventing kennel cough
  • Kennel cough FAQ

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough causes coughing and other uncomfortable symptoms in your pup’s upper respiratory system, and yes, it is contagious among other dogs. This means your dog can both contract it and give it to another furry friend.  

Aside from a cough, kennel cough can lead to more serious complications, like pneumonia. While this sounds scary, secondary pneumonia from kennel cough is fairly uncommon.

Cue the sigh of relief.

Is kennel cough in dogs serious? 

Kennel cough can be serious in dogs, but the good news is it’s not considered to be a fatal disease.

With the proper treatment, most dogs who have been diagnosed with kennel cough bounce back just fine. That said, kennel cough can be pretty uneasy for your dog. This can result in general discomfort for them, interrupting their sleep and meal times. 

More serious issues with kennel cough can be a result of how the respiratory illness progresses. Sometimes, that progression can lead to pneumonia, which has the potential to become fatal. This can happen with younger puppies, senior dogs, or those who have weakened immune systems.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

Kennel cough isn’t just a cough. There are a few other symptoms to look out for if you think your dog might be sick. Signs of kennel cough include:

  • A loud cough that sounds like honking or hacking
  • Coughing that sounds like something is stuck in your dog's throat
  • Coughing that may progress into your pup hacking up liquid or foam. This can look similar to vomiting
  • Tracheal sensitivity. You can check this by lighting running your hands along your dog’s windpipe to see if a coughing episode begins
  • Sneezes or a runny nose
  • Eye tearing, or possibly discharge
  • Dogs with more serious diseases might be lethargic, have a decreased appetite, or a fever

If your dog has difficulty breathing or seems very sick, seek immediate care. This could be the sign of a worsening or more serious disease

How is kennel cough transmitted?

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD), is a collection of diseases that includes viruses and bacteria, like Bordetella bronchiseptica, that can cause infectious illnesses that dogs can pass to each other.  

Kennel cough is usually spread through respiratory droplets that can occur from your dog sneezing or coughing, but also when they’re sharing toys, water or food bowls. Sometimes, even bedding can be contagious. 

Kennel cough’s incubation period is 2-14 days. This means your dog can be contagious even before they’re showing symptoms. 

Boarding, visits to doggie daycare, dog parks, and the trainer or a groomer can all be a risk for kennel cough. Just like with humans and viruses, any activity that has your dog in close contact with other pups can increase the likelihood of exposure.

There are a few other opportunities for transmission, too. These can vary, but include: 

  • Your dog feeling stress
  • Crowded spaces, especially with poor ventilation 
  • Colder temperatures
  • Breathing in irritants like cigarette smoke. This can weaken their immune defense

How is kennel cough diagnosed?

To confirm that your pooch does have kennel cough, your vet will ask you a few questions, like whether they’ve been in close contact with other dogs recently. Then they’ll do a full exam. 

If your dog is otherwise healthy, your Juno vet may be able to make the presumptive diagnosis by seeing the signs and knowing about any exposures.

Kennel cough is just one of a bunch of different causes of coughing in dogs. For most dogs, relief can come quickly and they’re fully back to themselves in just one or two weeks. And like a lot of respiratory illnesses, mild symptoms may linger on for a few weeks.

Treatment for kennel cough

While there’s no treatment for kennel cough, your vet may prescribe pet-safe cough suppressants, anti-inflammatories,. This can give your dog a much-needed break from coughing and soothe their throat. If your pet develops a secondary pneumonia, diagnostics like radiographs may be recommended as well as antibiotics. 

Looking for a home remedy? Lucky for you and your pooch, there are a few!

  • Use a humidifier without any meds or oils
  • Some good ol’ fashion TLC and rest
  • Small, frequent offering of water
  • Use dog harnesses, not collars for walks
  • Keep your pet isolated from other pets for 10-14 days
  • Reduce irritants, like smoke and dust
Kennel cough tip: Never give your dog medications without chatting to your vet first. Some remedies and medications can be toxic to dogs.

Preventing kennel cough

First and foremost, vaccination is key! It’s one of the most effective ways to decrease the chances of your dog getting kennel cough, especially if your dog is a  social butterfly. 

Not sure which vax to get? Get the facts from your Juno vet. They’ll help find the right one based on your dog’s lifestyle and needs. 

Here are a couple more tips to keep your pooch safe:

  • More than one dog at home? If one has kennel cough, try your best to keep them away from the other. Only take them out for walks when necessary, and wash your hands before petting your other furry friend.
  • Choose pet places that take precautions. This includes requiring all dogs to be vaccinated, having good ventilation and air filtration systems, and having protocols for keeping dogs safe if one develops a cough.

Kennel cough isn’t a walk in the park. Even if your pet does have mild symptoms, get them checked out to prevent further illness and speed up recovery. And remember, vaccination is your (next) best friend when it comes to preventing kennel cough and keeping your pet happy and healthy.

Q: Can my dog still contract kennel cough even if they’re vaccinated?

A: While it’s possible for dogs to contract kennel cough even while vaccinated, it's still recommended to vaccinate dogs for a number of reasons. When vaccinated, the change a dog will contract kennel cough is greatly reduced, and if your dog does contract it, the symptoms are generally milder with a faster recovery.

Q: If it’s not kennel cough, what could it be?

A: Dogs can cough for a number of reasons including: allergens, heart disease, collapsing trachea, chronic bronchitis and other various diseases. Coughing could also be caused by things like pneumonia and parasites.