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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.


Comments  11

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  • 05/09/2014 12:25pm

    My neighbor just adopted 2 dogs from the animal shelter, both of which were diagnosed with kennel cough, and being treated by our local vet. Was just wondering since we are neighbors, our yards are separated by a chain link fence, her little dogs can put their faces through to touch my big dog. My dog is always current on her vaccines ... but still curious if my dog can get this by touching noses with the neighbors?

  • 05/09/2014 03:49pm

    The short answer is yes, your dog can still get it. Just like the flu in humans, there are many different strains of bordetella virus (a/k/a kennel cough) and the vaccine does not cover all strains. That being said, most dogs that have a good immune system and are properly vaccinated should not get the virus. On another note, some dogs are carriers of the virus but are asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms but can still spread the virus.

  • 05/09/2014 10:28pm

    Thank you ... Our Akita is very healthy, had her out running today, no signs nor symptoms ... will keep a close eye on her. Any idea what the incubation period is? Rascal, and Charlie (neighbors dogs) are finished with their meds today, not over the cough yet ... and have a follow up appointment on Monday with our local vet.

  • 12/29/2014 10:30am

    I really don't see where this article is "blaming a boarding environment." The "boarding environment" doesn't cause the disease the parasite does. The fact of the matter is that anywhere there is a high concentration of dogs that the parasite can transfer from or to is a high risk for infection.

  • Bordetella Question
    08/17/2014 01:54pm

    We just got back from vacation. We board our 2 year old GSD and a friend watches our 8 year old GSD/Chow mix. Our 2 year old was there for 8 days and developed a slight cough about 4 days ago. She has been vaccinated, but we still suspect it is a mild case of Bortadella. All of her mannerisms are the same, she just stops every now and then to cough. My question is how long is a vaccinated dog with mild symptoms contagious? Thanks!

  • Kennel Cough question
    09/14/2014 10:51am

    This is my dogs second diagnosis with kennel cough- both times through a missed vaccination, both times at the same time of year. We never board him, or take him to a dog park. He must just be truly unlucky when greeting dogs on the street.

    Last year, it took about 2 months to clear up- he was on clavimox and cough suppressent. This year the vet put him on doxycycline- he is on his last day (7th) and still coughing. They said if it doesn't clear to come back for xrays. Does this should right or we take him to another vet?

  • 11/24/2015 03:57am

    Just saw your post and wondering how your dog is doing. I realize it's been a yr+ but I would like to find out if any of the medicatiion(s) or treatments finally worked.
    My 13-yr old dog has had a persistent, loud, frequent and very painful sounding cough for over a month but still has a good appetite, gets around good and doesn't act sick.
    Please, if there is an effective cough suppressant and anti-inflammatory I'd really like to know what they are.
    Thank you for your time.

  • rescue with kennel cough
    09/30/2014 12:04am

    I am going to look at a rescue dog about a year old and I just found out that he has kennel cough. They said he is not on medication and would not let him be adopted until he is completely well. This is making me very nervous about getting him. What are the chances of the dog getting it again? Suggestions please.

  • 11/04/2014 12:14pm

    The chances of the dog getting it again are the same as any other dog: very good chance if in surroundings where other dogs may have it (such as the kennel); or good if it is a chronic condition that has been diagnosed as in the 'Kennel Cough in Dogs' article above. Most dogs will get a mild case at sometime in their lifetime, particularly if they have been stressed by relocation (resistance down) and/or have been in with many other dogs (any one of which can spread it easily). You may want to ask the shelter whether they have quarantined the dog. If not, relapse and spreading is likely. A reputable group will quarantine. Generally, if the dog is a HEALTHY vet-checked dog more than six months old, it will not be a particularly problematic case. Don't panic if your dog later coughs once in a while, either. This is normal, just as in humans. I always take my "adoptees" straight to my own vet to be checked out (and answer any concerns I have) before I take them home. Good luck!!

  • Vacinated dog w/ virus
    11/18/2014 05:54am

    Can a dog get Kennel Cough even though he is routinely vaccinated? A friend of mine has her English Lab, who was being treated at a facility for a skin infection, has somehow contracted Kennel Cough. His health and immune system is compromised due to being on various antibiotics in an attempt to fight off MRSA as well as PseudoMona (sp?). Her Vet told her that despite the fact that he is routinely vaccinated, that there is a new strain that is resistant to the Bordetella vaccine. Is this true?

  • aka kennel cough
    06/20/2015 04:49pm

    I am a foster for 10 8 week old pups. They came to me sick. They have been given oral antibiotics for 5 days and now I am giving them penicillin shots once a day for 5 days. I cannot separate them here. is this going to continue to be a problem until they are separated.

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