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Kennel Cough in Dogs


Infectious Canine Tracheobronchitis


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


Young puppies can suffer the most severe complications that can result from this disease, since they have an underdeveloped immune system that is still strengthening. Also at increased risk are older dogs, which have decreased immune capabilities, and pregnant bitches, which also have lowered immunity to infections.




  • Dry hacking cough is the most common symptom
  • Cough may sound like honking
  • Retching
  • Watery nasal discharge
  • In mild cases, dogs would likely be active and eating normally
  • In severe cases, symptoms progress and can include pneumonia, inappetence, fever, lethargy and even death
  • Unvaccinated puppies and young dogs, or immunocompromised dogs might experience the most severe symptoms of the disease




Most of the time there has been a recent boarding that has placed the dog in contact with a number of other dogs.


Some of the most common causes that contribute to the infectious canine tracheobronchitis disease are Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza virus, and mycoplasma. Apart from the canine herpes virus, reovirus and the canine adenovirus can also cause this disease. As any one of these organisms can cause the symptoms of this disease, in most of the cases, the result of the disease is thought to be more than one organism combined. However, the most common and important organism that causes tracheobronchitis is the parainfluenza virus. This particular virus causes gentle symptoms that last less than a week, unless there is an involvement with other bacteria.


The Bordetella bronchiseptica is also a common type of bacteria that is often isolated from this disorder. According to the clinical signs the visible onset of infection usually occurs three to four days after initial exposure, but when it is combiend with other organisms – such as a combination parinfluenza-bordatella infection – the symptoms may last for up to three weeks.





The diagnosis for this disease is largely based upon the type of symptoms that are being presented and your 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 symptoms. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. These blood tests, along with viral isolation and bacterial cultures, will be performed in order to verify individual agents that are causing the kennel cough.




Depending on the severity of the infection and the severity of the symptoms, there are two main types of treatments that can be given for canine tracheobronchitis disease. In the most common and uncomplicated type of disease, there is generally no need for antibiotics.


If your dog is alert, but has only minor symptoms along with the recurrent cough, then it is often left alone to go through the course of the disease, just like the common cold in humans. Most of the time an anti-inflammatory agent will be given to your dog in order to reduce the severity and frequency of coughing episodes and to make the dog more comfortable. Antibiotics will be used if your dog is not eating, is running a fever, and is showing signs of severe respiratory troubles, as this may indicate pneumonia.


While your dog is recovering from the infection, allow it to breath without anything that might irritate or constrict its throat – such as collars or scarves/bandannas. For walks and outings, you can substitute the collar with a body harness.


Living and Management


In order to prevent this disease, it is recommended that you not expose your dog to kennel like or boarding conditions, where large populations of dogs are contained and mixed together. However, if you cannot avoid this, then a proper vaccination would be the best option. Talk to your veterinarian about what is available for your dog, since there are certain vaccines that can have worrisome side effects. Therefore, vaccines to prevent tracheobronchitis are generally only given to dogs that are at high risk.


Even with precautions, a large number of dogs acquire this respiratory infection. 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 are at risk for infection. In these cases, care must be taken to protect those at risk from coming into contact with the sick dog until it has fully recovered. If contact cannot be avoided, extra care will need to be taken with hygiene.


Comments  6

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  • Bordetella article
    02/13/2012 09:01am

    I own a boarding facility and continually educate myself on any infectious disease or bacteria that could possibly infect a owner's pet. However, I am always disappointed how these articles immediately blame a boarding environment. I realize there is more of an incidence in a boarding situation; however, many of us have taken steps to ensure that upper respiratory does not break out in our facilities (eletrostatic filters, air conditioners that exchange the air frequently, cleanliness, proper sanitation procedures, etc). In Florida, where bordetella is prevelant, we have seen many cases of dogs getting it at the dog park and also from staying at a vet clinic around other infected animals. I would urge you to stop "blaming" only boarding facilities for the cause of this virus as we all know a dog can get it in it's own back yard or even at the veterinarian's office by being exposed to an infected pet.

  • 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.

  • 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?

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