Kennel cough

Kennel cough is a highly discomforting infectious condition that affects dogs and can even pass on to immunocompromised human beings. Get detailed information about the disease, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

What is Kennel cough?

It is the name given to a severely contagious infection of the upper respiratory tract in dogs, caused by a virus or bacteria. It is quite similar to a chest cold in humans. The condition infects a varied number of hosts, including cats. In some cases, the condition also affects humans – especially if they have an impaired immunity.

The medical name for this disorder is Tracheobronchitis. It is also known as Canine Bronchitis.

Kennel cough Incidence

This is one of the most common infectious respiratory condition affecting canines. The name of the disease is a reference to the fact that is most prevalent among dogs that live in a kennel, hospital or any other similar shelter. However, that is not always the case. The disorder is prevalent across the world.

Kennel cough Causes

The condition is most commonly caused due to an infection by the bacteria known as Bordetella bronchiseptica. The disease may also arise due to infection by Adenovirus-2 and Parainfluenza. Some other microbes that might be involved with the disorder may include:

  • Coliforms
  • Mycoplasma
  • Pasteurella
  • Pseudomonas
  • Streptococcus

Kennel cough Symptoms

The disease mainly affects the upper respiratory tract. The symptoms of this disease typically arise 4-7 days after exposure to the causative microbe. The condition is initially manifested through loud and paroxysmal coughing, that is often described as the honk of a goose. Some other prominent early signs of this disorder include:

  • Clear nasal discharge
  • Retching, indicated by the production of a white frothy fluid

The secondary symptoms of the disease are:

  • Lethargy, which shows that the dog is sick
  • Fever, which is exhibited through dry cough and rise in body temperature
  • Anorexia or loss of appetite
  • Ocular discharge, or discharge from the eye

In a few dogs, conjunctivitis and flu-like symptoms may also be noted.

Hacking cough is one of the earliest and most notable symptoms of this disease. It seems as if an affected dog is about to vomit and the sound is reverberating throughout its body. The phlegm expelled from the mouth of the dog is yellowish in appearance. The sound of coughing often seems as if the dog is being gagged. If the dog is suffering from dry cough, there is reduced production of phlegm in their body.

How do Dogs Get Kennel cough?

This is an extremely contagious disease. It can spread from one dog to another through direct contact with soiled bowls or beddings. It also spreads through the air via the cough droplets from infected canines. It is due to this reason that the disease has the ability to spread quickly among dogs housed in hospitals, kennels or similar shelters.

Is Kennel cough Contagious to Humans?

Although the risk of transmission from dogs to humans is rare, one should exercise caution as infants and elderly individuals with a weak immunity are susceptible to the condition.

Kennel cough Diagnosis

The condition is typically detected through a physical examination, observation of clinical signs, history of exposure to microbial agents and response to therapy. Important diagnostic tests associated with this disease involve:

  • Bacterial culture
  • Blood work
  • Tracheal wash
  • Virus isolation

Kennel cough Differential Diagnosis

The differential diagnosis for this disorder involves telling its symptoms apart from those of other conditions that produce similar signs, such as Canine influenza and Canine distemper.

Kennel cough Treatment

In most cases, the condition is treated on an outpatient basis. This reduces the risk of transmission of the infection to other animals. Most mild and uncomplicated cases of this disease ted to resolve on their own. The symptoms take approximately 1-2 weeks to subside. If the condition tends to persist, one may need to take an affected dog to a vet who would provide medicines and cough suppressants to provide symptomatic relief. Severe episodes of coughing can be relieved with the aid of cough suppressants. Short term steroids and nebulizers might also be used. If the condition is found to result from a bacterial infection, antibiotics like Clavamox and trimethoprim-sulfonamide combination might be recommended.

An affected dog should be provided with as much rest as possible at home. Broad-spectrum antibiotics, such as Amoxicillin, are often found to be effective. A warm blanket should be provided to it to give more comfort. A dog collar should not be used for a few days. The canine should be fed soft, mushy foods and given lots of clean, fresh water to drink. A vaporizer or humidifier should be placed around the area where the dog sleeps to allow it more comfort.

Acute cases of the condition should be cured by a veterinarian. Otherwise, these may give rise to more serious disorders – including Bronchitis and Pneumonia.

Kennel cough Vaccines

The condition can be effectively                cured by using the intranasal Bordetella vaccine, although patients may require it to be administered twice every day. The intranasal vaccine immunizes a dog within 72 hours. In some cases, intramuscular Bordetella vaccine may also be used. Addition of CAV-2 and CPI vaccines into routine vaccines would reduce the incidence and severity of the coughs associated with this disease. The Bordetella vaccination is an optional preventive measure that may be beneficial for boarded dogs, show dogs and canines that frequently visit grooming salons.

Kennel cough Home Remedies

Dog owners often wonder whether there is any home remedy for the condition. There are indeed certain home treatment options that allow people to cure simple cases of the disorder in their canine companions. In more serious cases, these home remedies may act as supportive treatment alongside conventional medical curative options:

  • Over-the-counter cough syrups
  • Peppermint tea
  • Vitamin C supplements
  • Raw honey mixed with warm water
  • Yerba Santa, an expectorant
  • Bitter herb, also known as wild cherry bark
  • Homeopathic medications, such as Bryonia C6 Echinacea purpurea and Plantago lanceolata

Kennel cough Prognosis

In most dogs affected with simple forms of this disease, the outcome is generally very good. Vets often advise people to keep their affected dogs in rest for a few weeks. With proper treatment, uncomplicated cases of this condition are likely to go away in about two weeks.

Kennel cough Prevention

The best way to avoid this disease is to stay aware about the latest vaccines. There are various vaccines that can protect dogs against a lot of potential causes of this condition. It may also be a good idea to acquire a booster immunization approximately a week prior to boarding or showing a dog. Try to maintain hygienic living conditions for your canine companion, as much as possible. Regularly clean the kennel and ventilate all closed spaces lived in or frequented by your dog. Wash your hands and clothes before feeding or interacting with your pet, to avoid infecting it.

It is recommended that you vaccinate your dog once or twice every year with the help of your vet. A number of dog boarding facilities do not allow canines that have not been vaccinated for Kennel cough. Make sure that you vaccinate your dog a few weeks prior to sending it to a boarding. This would provide it with some time to build up its immunity.

Kennel cough Risk Factors

The disorder affects canines of all ages, breeds and sexes. No predilection of any type has yet been detected. However, certain conditions have been found to increase the susceptibility to this disease. These include:

  • Living in crowded kennels
  • Low temperature
  • Poor ventilation
  • Stress, due to excessive traveling or exposure to cigarette smoke and dust

Dogs frequenting animal hospitals, dog grooming centers and canine shows are also at risk. In short, dogs that regularly visit places frequented or crowded by lots of other canines are at great risk of contracting this infectious disorder.

If your dog is coughing incessantly or suffering from uneasiness or rapid breathing, get in touch with a vet immediately. Timely diagnosis and treatment would help affected dogs to recover faster and also prevent the risk of transmission of the disease to other dogs or humans (who are immunocompromised).


  1. Ford, Richard Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis In: Greene CE, Ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat 3rd Ed. W.B. Saunders Elsevier 2006; 54-61.
  2. Ettinger, Stephen J.;Feldman, Edward C. (1995). Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine (4th ed. ed.). W.B. Saunders Company. ISBN 0-7216-6795-3.

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