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Kennel Cough – Prevention, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Published on
Wednesday 10 April 2019
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
kennel cough dogs
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The scientific name for kennel cough is Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis, or Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (CIDR). Technically speaking, kennel cough is the equivalent of bronchitis for canines.

Kennel cough is a disease that affects a dog’s trachea and bronchial tubes. The virus, or bacteria, infects their upper respiratory system and it is highly contagious. Canine bronchitis spreads very easily, through sneezing and coughing.

If your dog catches a canine cough, don’t panic. Indeed, the virus clears out within two to three weeks, leaving your pet as good as new and fresh with vigor. However, if not treated with caution and gravity, the disease could soon turn to pneumonia, which is fatal—especially for puppies with an underdeveloped immunity system.

What is the kennel cough?

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disorder, usually seen in dogs that live in close quarters, in the shelters of kennels, for example. The main characteristic of this infection is a strong cough that makes a deep, honking sound

This disorder occurs typically in two forms.

Mild kennel cough

The milder version of the disorder results in retching and vomiting in dogs. This form of the disorder is caused by bacterias such as Bordetella Bronchiseptica, or due to Canine Influenza.

Severe kennel cough

The second form of kennel cough is far more dangerous and its symptoms are much more severe. It is caused by a complex combination of the Canine Distemper Virus and Canine Adenovirus (CAV).

Dogs who suffer from this type of kennel cough end up with rhinitis, conjunctivitis, and a hacking cough accompanied by a fever, as well as other problems and symptoms. They may have reddened eyes and lethargy from the distemper virus, coupled with liver damage from the CAV.

Canine Adenovirus, the virus which causes the serious version of kennel cough, comes in two forms. CAV is essentially a hepatitis virus, but both type 1 and type 2 have different symptoms:

  1. CAV-1 can display symptoms like coughing, retching, and conjunctivitis
  2. CAV-2 can cause fever, abdominal pain, and vomiting.

How is kennel cough spread and transmitted?

Due to its highly contagious nature, kennel cough can spread widely and quickly.

The list of ways kennel cough can spread and be transmitted includes:

Airborne virus

In the same way that humans catch a viral cold or the flu, dogs can catch kennel cough from an infected dog through airborne bacteria or virus. This is the most common way that canine cough is transmitted.

Usually, the bacteria that causes kennel cough latch onto droplets of water, mucus or saliva from infected dogs and when they sneeze, drool or lick, the bacteria gets spread. It also travels through the dust particles in the air, eventually settling on any healthy dog.

The bacteria makes its way down the dog’s trachea and begins to infect the upper respiratory system, slowly damaging every organ.

Touching contaminated objects

Bacteria cannot stay floating in the air for too long—it settles very quickly. Bacteria that are transmitted through water and dust tends to settle on fabric, on objects like sofas, linen, bed covers, etc.

A healthy, non-infected dog may also catch severe kennel cough because they licked or sniffed contaminated furniture that was earlier used by an infected dog.

So in a kennel or shelter home, one dog can infect all others simply by passing on the infection through various objects around them, including the flooring, or walls. Drinking water from a bowl that is used by an infected dog is a prime cause of how a healthy dog brings kennel cough home.

Contact with Infected Dogs

Sniffing the urine or feces of other infected dogs can pass on the infection. In some rare cases, it also happens that an infected dog is a mere carrier for the bacteria, without the infection affecting its own immune system. This is dangerous, because you may think a particular dog is harmless, but it has the potential to infect your dog.

Your pet pooch can bring home an infection just from sniffing, licking or playing with other dogs at the park. As is with the nature of dogs, especially friendlier ones, it’s natural that they’re drawn towards any dog that reciprocates their playfulness. If this dog is infected, it takes just seconds to transmit the disease from one dog to another.

What are the Symptoms of Kennel Cough?

The symptoms of kennel cough usually show up after three to ten days of contact with the bacteria. The main symptoms are:

A dry hacking cough

As the name suggests, a dry, heavy, and persistent cough is the prime kennel cough symptom. Sometimes, the cough is accompanied by a honking sound when the dog tries to draw more air after coughing.

It may seem like your dog is gagging at times, trying to get something out—as if there something stuck in their throat. They may make weird faces and stretch their mouths in reflex.


Dogs display fatigue and lethargy when they catch the canine cough. This is due to all the coughing and the trouble they have drawing in air through their infected trachea.

When your dog shows symptoms of lethargy, you must know that they might require a more intensive and fast acting treatment. The Bordetella Bronchiseptica bacteria, responsible for kennel cough also has connections with pneumonia.

So before the lethargy turns to something more fatal, get the right kennel cough treatment for your dog.


A normal body temperature for dogs is between 101 – 102.4° Fahrenheit. Having a high fever combined with coughing and a fever is a telltale sign of kennel cough.

With the fever, your dog might have red and watery eyes, a bone dry and warm nose (healthy dogs have wet noses), and may even be shivering. In the worst cases, dogs might vomit due to the shivering and coughing. Warm ears can be an indication of raised body temperature in dogs.

When you dog has a fever, they may also experience a loss of appetite and eat a lot less than usual.

Nasal Discharge

A thick mucosal, green or yellow discharge from the nose is a sign of kennel cough in dogs. However, the appearance, frequency, and many other factors are taken into consideration to determine if the discharge is because of kennel cough or something more serious.

How long does kennel cough last?

As discussed, there are two types of kennel cough infections—and each one has different recovery time.

Severe cases of kennel cough can last for months when including the recovery period. Mild kennel coughs are much quicker to resolve on their own.

Bordetella bronchiseptica

Bordetella bronchiseptica is the milder version of kennel cough and it’s caused only by the Bordetella bacteria. This type of cough has a recovery time of around 10 days with the proper care and treatment. However, the dog’s body will take anywhere from 6 to 14 weeks to completely recover and bounce back into shape.

Severe kennel cough

The second type of kennel cough which is stronger and more dangerous is the infection caused by a combination of the Bordetella bacteria and a virus too.

These viruses are usually Canine Distemper or Canine Influenza, and together with Bordetella, cause long-term impairment to the larynx and trachea. Your dog may need years to completely recover from the damage done.

How to prevent kennel cough?

Kennel cough is spread through poor hygiene and negligence. So, to prevent it, one must simply be cautious about the health and sanitation of the dog’s surroundings.

You can prevent kennel cough through the below strategies.

Regular Disinfection

Weekly cleaning and sanitizing the floors, walls, enclosures, and surrounding areas is extremely important. Especially if you have a lot of dogs or if your dog comes into contact with other dogs via a dog walker or dog boarding.

Every time they return from a walk or play, wipe their paws and faces with a dog-friendly disinfectant or sanitizer and clean their collars well. Give your dog weekly baths and groom them well, trimming their nails and cleaning their ears thoroughly.

Always wash and rinse their bowls of water and food after every meal. Lastly, ensure your dogs don’t drink or eat from the bowls of other dogs.

Air Sanitization

Airborne bacteria cause kennel cough, even more so in enclosed spaces. So the first thing to do is to aerate any small spaces. Additionally, air purifiers help with air circulation and regulate the inflow of fresh air into a closed space.

The best way to destroy airborne bacteria is to expose them to sunlight, so whenever possible, let the daylight into the room to rid the space of all germs, bacteria, and mold.

Avoid unkempt parks and soiled floors

Dogs often pick up kennel cough when they come in contact with other dogs outside, at parks and playgrounds. Always choose open, well-lit, and populated parks to take your dogs to. Sunlight is important, so avoid going to places that have a thicket around them. These can be breeding grounds for a lot of other germs and insects too.

Dogs also get infected by licking or sniffing floors and objects. They do this to pick up the scent of other dogs that have been there before. So keep them away from floors that have muddy paw marks, urine or fecal remains.

How to treat kennel cough in dogs?

The first thing to do after your dog is diagnosed with the infection is to disinfect the household and every area that your dog has been in. Next step is to clean them up well so that the infection doesn’t spread again.

It’s best to remove your dog’s collar as it might harbor germs and bacteria which could cause a relapse. It can also slow down the recovery process. Quarantine your dog in a clean and well-maintained, airy space until the effects of the infection ebb away. Wash or renew all of your dog’s equipment (leads, id, collar, beddings, etc).

Here are some of the best ways to treat kennel cough.

Over-the-counter medicines

For a milder infection, you can try managing the cough with an OTC kennel cough dru for dogs. Ask your vet beforehand for recommendations.

Temaril P is the preferred antibiotic for dogs with kennel cough. It’s a combination of Trimepazine and Prednisolone. The former helps with coughing and itching while Prednisolone is used as an anti-inflammatory.

Side effects of Temaril P include drowsiness, lethargy, and in some rare cases, vomiting and diarrhea. As it’s a steroidal medicine it may also cause tremors. Speak to your vet before administering it to your dog.


Antibiotics help with bacterial kennel coughs.

As observed by Shelter Medicine of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “antibiotics only treat bacterial infections and many cases of kennel cough are caused by viruses, there’s a great chance that such antibiotics would not be helpful.”

If the kennel cough case is severe and bacterial, your vet may prescribe antibiotics such as Doxycycline. It can cause a slight stomach upset but is otherwise well tolerated by most dogs.

Trimethoprim-Sulfa might also be prescribed for infections of the trachea and respiratory disorders. This kennel cough medicine has a list of mild side effects, which if persist, must be brought to the vet’s notice immediately.

Clavamox and Baytril are used to treat bacterial infections in dogs and may cause seizures or convulsions and must be dealt with caution.


A lot of pet parents and breeders want to steer clear of antibiotics for their pets. An alternative kennel cough treatment is to give your infected dog a dose of vitamin supplements.

While Vitamin C helps in strengthening your dog’s immunity, it isn’t exactly the most effective treatment for kennel cough.

Honey and Coconut Oil

This all-natural herbal alternative is effective and devoid of any side effects too.

Honey has loads of antibacterial and antifungal properties and will really help with the nasal discharge. Just make sure you give your dog pure, raw honey and not artificially flavored sugar-filled syrups. One tablespoon administered twice or thrice a day will do the trick.

Coconut oil, on the other hand, has strong antiviral properties, which also helps with doggy breath. One teaspoon for every 10 lbs of the dog’s weight is the dosage you should stick to.

Herbal Remedies

Some people reach to their kitchen cabinets to treat kennel cough.

Raw garlic contains antibacterial properties can clear out the bacteria. Crush some into your pet’s favorite sweet treat or mix it in with some kibble and feed it to your dog.

Olive leaf is also known to be an effective treatment for dogs with kennel cough.

A little cinnamon sprinkled over your dog’s food can also help manage the cough better.

Is there a vaccine for kennel cough?

bordetella bronchisepticas vaccine by vanguard

The bordetella vaccine can be administered once or twice a year to protect the dog from kennel cough and other bacterial infections. Vaccinating a dog against Bortadella will not prevent kennel cough but it will definitely decrease the likelihood of it happening. The vaccine will also aid in lessening the severity of infection and will help the dog recover faster.

In mild cases of infection, the vaccine will help the dog recover from kennel cough on its own, without any medical support. Basically, what the vaccine does is strengthen the immunity of a dog.

Can kennel cough become life threatening?

Canine cough is not a fatal infection. Yet, it can cause long-term damage to the dog’s windpipe and voice box if it’s left untreated.

The only situations in which this infection can be fatal to fully grown dogs is if the dog has an immune disorder or if it’s recovering from a bad illness. Puppies, pregnant or nursing mothers, and geriatric dogs can lose their lives to kennel cough.

One comment on “Kennel Cough – Prevention, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment”

  1. Katie

    Garlic is a no no to give doggies.

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