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Kennel Cough in Dogs


Infectious Canine Tracheobronchitis


Kennel cough, the common name given to infectious canine tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease among dogs. As the name suggests, it is typified by inflammation of the trachea and bronchi. This disease is found throughout the world and is known to infect a high percentage of dogs at least once during their lifetime. It is also sometimes referred to as bordetellosis.


Young puppies often suffer the most severe complications that can result from this disease since they have immature immune systems. Also at increased risk are older dogs, who may have decreased immune capabilities, pregnant bitches, who also have lowered immunity, and dogs with preexisting respiratory diseases.




  • A persistent cough is the most common symptom
  • Retching
  • Watery nasal discharge
  • In mild cases, dogs are often active and eating normally
  • In severe cases, symptoms progress and can include pneumonia, inappetence, fever, lethargy and even death




Some of the most common microorganisms that contribute to infectious canine tracheobronchitis are Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, canine adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and mycoplasma. Any of these organisms can cause the symptoms of this disease, alone or in combination. Infections with multiple organisms tend to cause the most severe symptoms. 


Dogs often develop clinical signs associated with kennel cough 3-4 days after exposure to a large number of other dogs (e.g., at a boarding facility or show).




The diagnosis of this disease is largely based upon the type of symptoms that are present and a dog's history with regards to exposure to other dogs. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health and onset of clinical signs. Your veterinarian may order some combination of blood chemistry tests, a complete blood cell count, a urinalysis, fecal examinations, and chest X-rays. If a dog does not respond to treatment as expected, additional testing (e.g.,  bacterial cultures) may be necessary to identify the microorganisms that are causing kennel cough.




Treatment depends on the severity of the infection. If your dog is alert, active, eating well, and has only minor symptoms, your veterinarian may only prescribe general supportive care like rest and good hydration and nutrition. More severely affected dogs benefit from medications that reduce inflammation and coughing. If a bacterial infection is present, antibiotics may help shorten the course of the disease. Dogs with pneumonia often need to be hospitalized for more aggressive treatment.




In order to prevent the spread of this disease, dogs with kennel cough should be isolated until they are better and no longer contagious. Dogs who are at high risk for infection (e.g., those who attend shows or spend time in boarding or day care facilities) should be vaccinated against Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus. All dogs should be vaccinated against canine adenovirus.


Even after being vaccinated, dogs may still acquire kennel cough (although usually a less severe form than they would have otherwise). It is best to be observant and prepared.


Although this infection usually does not cross over to humans, there are instances where young children and adults with compromised immune systems may be at risk. In these instances, it is best to talk to your veterinarian and human health care provider about your options.