Kennel cough—also known as canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) or infectious tracheobronchitis—is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs. It’s typically spread when a healthy dog is exposed to the respiratory secretions of an infected dog.
Kennel cough can cause mild symptoms in some dogs but can progress to a life-threatening pneumonia in other dogs.
Here’s everything you need to know about kennel cough in dogs—from what it is and its symptoms to kennel cough treatment and prevention.
What Is Kennel Cough?
Kennel cough is an infectious bronchitis that causes the trachea and bronchioles to become inflamed, resulting in a dry, hacking cough. This cough can sometimes sound like your dog has something stuck in their throat.
Kennel cough can be caused by multiple microorganisms, including Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, canine adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and mycoplasma, along with many other bacteria and viruses.
Some dogs may only have a mild cough, while others can become very ill with a life-threatening pneumonia. This is why it is important to recognize the symptoms of kennel cough and seek treatment immediately.
How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?
A healthy dog can get kennel cough by inhaling aerosolized bacteria or viruses from an infected dog.
The bacteria and/or virus can be spread from an infected dog through coughing or sneezing, and dogs can also get it from infected objects (toys, food/water bowls).
Dogs are typically exposed to kennel cough when they are in crowded areas that have poor airflow and warm, moist air. Dogs can develop kennel cough approximately three to four days after they are exposed.
Some of these situations include:
Dog daycare facilities
There is a kennel cough vaccination that can prevent against getting kennel cough.
What Are the Symptoms of Kennel Cough?
Symptoms of kennel cough include:
A persistent dry, hacking cough
Coughing during the night that keeps you and your dog awake
Retching with the production of white foam
Severe symptoms include:
Loss of appetite
Is Kennel Cough Fatal?
Many dogs with kennel cough can recover without complication; however, some dogs can become very sick with life-threatening pneumonia.
Dogs that are more susceptible to complications from kennel cough include:
Puppies that have immature immune systems (especially young puppies that have not been fully vaccinated)
Older dogs that have a decreased immune defense or other serious diseases (heart failure, diabetes, or cancer)
Pregnant dogs that may have a lower immunity
Dogs that have pre-existing respiratory diseases (tracheal collapse, chronic bronchitis, severe respiratory allergies)
How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?
Dogs with mild kennel cough are usually sick for about one or two weeks and recover well.
These dogs usually only experience mild clinical signs and quickly recover from kennel cough, which translates to a good prognosis.
Dogs that have complicated cases of kennel cough can be sick for three to six weeks, with a long road to recovery. If dogs are severely affected by kennel cough and develop pneumonia, they could possibly die.
What Is the Kennel Cough Treatment?
The treatment for kennel cough will depend on your dog and the severity of the kennel cough.
Mild Cases of Kennel Cough
For mild cases of kennel cough, treatment may only include supportive care, which focuses on rest, nutrition, and hydration.
A cough suppressant may be prescribed by your dog’s veterinarian to help reduce the frequency of the cough.
It should take about one to two weeks for a dog to recover from a mild case of kennel cough. Some dogs can completely recover on their own with no treatment required.
Severe Cases of Kennel Cough
Complicated cases of kennel cough can cause your dog to become very sick. A dog with severe kennel cough will most likely be coughing, acting very lethargic, and not wanting to eat or drink.
If a dog has developed pneumonia, then treatment can involve:
Possibly oxygen therapy
The cost of kennel cough treatment in complicated cases can sometimes be over $1,000 depending on the number of days of hospitalization required.
Are There Home Remedies for Kennel Cough in Dogs?
For mild cases of kennel cough, there are a few at-home remedy options. However, keep an eye out for signs that the kennel cough is getting worse or not getting better.
Add Honey to Warm Water
Honey can be a great home remedy for kennel cough as it can help soothe your dog's throat and minimize coughing.
You can give your dog one-half tablespoon to 1 tablespoon of honey mixed with a little warm water in a bowl. This can be offered up to three times a day depending on how often your dog is coughing.
Use a Humidifier
A small humidifier can be placed near your dog while they are resting.
The humidifier will moisten the air that your dog breathes, which can help with irritation of the respiratory tract.
Use Your Shower to Do Steam Therapy
If you’re taking a hot shower or bath, let your dog stay in the closed bathroom with you—but not in the shower or bath. The hot shower can provide steam therapy and also help to decrease irritation.
Make Sure Your Dog Is Getting Plenty of Rest
Rest is very important for your dog while recovering from kennel cough.
Try to reduce the amount of exercise your dog gets on a daily basis while they are recovering from kennel cough—this can help with healing and reduce coughing spells.
How to Help Your Dog to Recover From Kennel Cough
While your dog is home recovering from kennel cough, make sure to avoid irritants such as household cleaners, cigarette smoke, and dust. These things can cause more irritation and prolong your dog’s recovery.
If you take your dog outside, consider using a harness instead of a collar. The harness will allow you to go for a walk without applying pressure on their trachea like a collar would, which can worsen your dog’s cough.
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