A guide to kennel cough

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is a common dog health issue. It’s an infectious disease that causes cold-like symptoms, and heavy honk-like coughing in a dog. It’s highly contagious and while it usually clears on its own, severe cases can be very dangerous if not treated immediately. It’s medical name is infectious canine tracheobronchitis and it’s basically a combination of viral and bacterial infections that cause the windpipe (the trachea) and the voice box to become inflamed.

Dogs are most likely to catch kennel cough if they’re held somewhere with a number of other dogs. In fact, such are the risks that most boarding kennels will require proof of vaccination before taking in your dog.

Young dogs and puppies are particularly susceptible to kennel cough, as their underdeveloped immune systems mean the disease takes hold more quickly and more severely. Older dogs whose immune systems are no longer as effective are also more at risk, as are pregnant dogs and also dogs that already have respiratory health conditions.

Sick dog with kennel cough

What causes kennel cough?

Kennel cough can be caused by a number of different viruses or infections, including parainfluenza, coronavirus and the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium. It’s an airborne disease which is one of the reasons it’s so infectious. Once your dog has caught the disease, it normally takes from about 3 days to a week or so for the symptoms to appear.

Kennel cough symptoms in dogs

The first signs of kennel cough are typical cold-like symptoms, including irritated eyes, runny nose and sneezing. These will then develop into the honk-like cough that’s most associated with the disease.

The cough will get worse if the dog is excited or active. It may even cause light vomiting and retching, or cause the dog to cough up fluid or phlegm.

Other more severe symptoms include general depression, breathing problems, loss of appetite and fever. If you see even one of these symptoms it means the disease has progressed and you should take your dog to see your vet without delay.

The vet will do a chest X-ray and will check for signs of pneumonia, as well as kennel cough. Blood and fecal samples will also be taken to rule out parasites as the cause of the symptoms.

If you do suspect that your dog might have kennel cough, then you should make sure they are kept isolated from other dogs until you can see your vet.

Treatment and cures

Kennel cough itself isn’t really all that dangerous. It’s similar to the human cold in that it doesn’t respond to antibiotics, but will eventually die off on its own. It shouldn’t, however, be left untreated, as there’s a real danger of secondary infections like pneumonia.

Cough suppressants and anti-virals may be prescribed, along with antibiotics (to treat secondary infection). Your dog will also have to be kept separate from other dogs, be given plenty of fluids, and minimal exercise. If your dog tends to strain at the leash, it’s a good idea to use a harness while they are suffering from kennel cough.

How long does kennel cough last?

In most cases, the symptoms of kennel cough will gradually clear over the course of a few weeks, completely disappearing after about 3 weeks. In the case of young puppies, more elderly dogs and other dogs with weakened immune systems it could take about 3 weeks longer than this to clear.


Kennel cough is, of course, preventable by ensuring that your dog is vaccinated with the kennel cough vaccine. The vaccine used is normally a nasal spray which protects the nasal cavity and prevents the disease from spreading once it’s been inhaled. Depending on the actual vaccine used by your vet, the vaccination will be effective for somewhere between 6 – 12 months.

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