Kennel Cough in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Sara Bledsoe, DVM, CVA, CHPV
By Sara Bledsoe, DVM, CVA, CHPV. Reviewed by Melissa Boldan, DVM on Apr. 29, 2024
An English Bulldog visits their vet.

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In This Article

Summary

What Is Kennel Cough in Dogs?

Kennel cough is a common cause of coughing in dogs—especially in those that have been to the groomer, a boarding facility, or dog parks.  Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) or infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs. Dogs can develop kennel cough approximately two to 14 days after exposure.

Kennel cough in dogs presents as a dry, hacking cough. It may sound like your pup has something stuck in their throat. Some pet parents will describe the cough like a honk, while others say it’s more of a sharp, puffing cough that won’t stop.

Kennel cough can cause mild symptoms in some dogs, but it can progress to life-threatening pneumonia in others. Because of this, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of kennel cough.

While many cases of kennel cough can resolve on their own with supportive care at home. Many dogs affected by kennel cough will act completely normal besides the cough itself.

However, some pups may require emergency veterinary care if they’re showing signs of pneumonia. This includes lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, and a greenish-yellow discharge from their nose.

If your dog is experiencing these symptoms, take them to a vet immediately.

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Kennel Cough Symptoms in Dogs

Symptoms of kennel cough in dogs include:

  • A persistent dry, hacking cough

  • Coughing during the night that keeps you and your dog awake.

  • Retching with the production of white foam

  • Clear eye drainage

  • Runny nose and sneezing

  • Tracheal sensitivity (your dog coughs when you apply gentle pressure to their trachea)

Though kennel cough in dogs may resolve without treatment, it can progress to more severe symptoms, especially in puppies and senior dogs. It’s important to understand that kennel cough isn’t caused by a single bug, but rather a combination of several different viruses and bacteria.

Some combinations are more serious than others and can make your dog feel extremely ill. These dogs have more severe symptoms of kennel cough and need to be seen by their vet.

Severe symptoms of kennel cough include:

Dogs with these severe symptoms need to see their veterinarian immediately for diagnosis and treatment. If your dog develops labored breathing or is declining, take them to an emergency veterinarian immediately.

Causes of Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel cough in dogs can be caused by multiple bacteria and viruses, including:

Kennel cough in dogs is typically spread when a healthy pup is exposed to the respiratory secretions of an infected dog. This can be through coughing or sneezing. Dogs can also contract kennel cough from infected objects (such as shared toys, food bowls, or water bowls).

Dogs are typically exposed to kennel cough when they are in crowded areas, such as:

  • Animal shelters

  • Boarding kennels

  • Dog daycare facilities

  • Grooming facilities

  • Dog parks

How Veterinarians Diagnose Kennel Cough in Dogs

A diagnosis for kennel cough in dogs can be made based on the dog’s symptoms, history, and response to therapy. Identifying the underlying bacteria or virus is typically not needed. However, diagnostic testing is recommended for:

  • Dogs where pneumonia is suspected

  • Dogs that do not respond to supportive care

  • Dogs with signs of systemic disease

  • If an outbreak is occurring in multiple dogs

These diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood work

  • Chest X-rays

  • PCR testing (looking for the genetic material of a virus or bacteria to diagnose an infection)   

Treatment of Kennel Cough in Dogs

The treatment for kennel cough will depend on your dog and the severity of the condition.

For mild cases of kennel cough, treatment may only include supportive care, which focuses on rest, nutrition, and hydration.

Your dog’s airways can dry out from all the coughing. Keeping them in the bathroom while you shower is a good way to help them keep their airways moist. Adding a humidifier to the room they sleep in may also be beneficial.

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.

Complicated cases of kennel cough can cause your dog to become extremely sick. A dog with severe kennel cough will most likely be coughing, acting lethargic, and not wanting to eat or drink.

If a dog has developed pneumonia, then treatment can involve:

  • Hospitalization

  • Intravenous fluids

  • Antibiotics

  • Possibly oxygen therapy

Recovery and Management of Kennel Cough in Dogs

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.

Do not use a collar and leash if your dog has kennel cough or is recovering. Change to using harnesses during walks, as collars with leashes place extra pressure on the trachea, which induces coughing.

Prevention of Kennel Cough in Dogs

To help minimize the risk of your pet getting kennel cough, vaccination against one of the common causes (Bordetella bronchiseptica) is generally recommended. 

When looking for grooming facilities, daycare facilities, or general doggy play date partners, ask about their vaccine requirements to ensure the dogs your pup will be in contact with are also vaccinated. While fully vaccinated dogs can still get kennel cough, this preventative measure may help keep your pet protected. 

Kennel Cough Vaccine 

There is also a kennel cough vaccination that your vet may recommend.

Because kennel cough is often the result of a combination of respiratory viruses and/or bacteria, the vaccine is not 100% effective at preventing the disease. However, dogs that are vaccinated are much more likely to only get mild symptoms of kennel cough instead of severe symptoms. It’s also helpful to reduce their chances of contracting this common illness.

Dogs that have a brachycephalic face with a smushed-looking nose (like English Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese, and French Bulldogs) are strongly encouraged to get the vaccine.

These breeds are more likely to struggle with recovering from respiratory diseases with their compromised airways and can benefit from a stronger immune response that the vaccine provides.

Some pet parents may elect to skip vaccinating for kennel cough because their pet never has exposure to other dogs. Fortunately, this vaccine comes in many forms with an oral liquid being one of the most popular.

It’s very safe with little side effects and no injection with a needle required.

Kennel Cough in Dogs FAQs

Is kennel cough contagious to humans?

Kennel cough is not contagious to humans, only dogs.

How long is kennel cough contagious?

Dogs that are still coughing are contagious. Ideally wait at least two weeks after their last cough before exposing them to other dogs.

Is kennel cough deadly?

While most cases of kennel cough are mild, kennel cough can become deadly if a dog develops pneumonia.


Sara Bledsoe, DVM, CVA, CHPV

WRITTEN BY

Sara Bledsoe, DVM, CVA, CHPV

Veterinarian

Dr. Sara Bledsoe graduated from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012 and completed her clinical year at Auburn University...


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