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  • Morgan F., CVT

Kennel Cough: A Comprehensive Guide to Protecting Your Canine Companion's Health

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis or canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD), is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs.

How do dogs get kennel cough?

Kennel cough is most commonly contracted in busy areas where many dogs may cross paths, such as dog parks, pet stores, boarding/training facilities, animal shelters, grooming facilities, dog shows, etc. Kennel cough is passed from dog to dog or from contaminated surfaces to dogs by exposure to respiratory secretions of infected dogs. It usually takes 5-7 days after exposure to see symptoms.

Many dogs at a dog park

Kennel cough is actually an umbrella term and can be caused by numerous organisms such as Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, canine adenovirus type 2, canine distemper virus, canine parainfluenza virus, canine respiratory coronavirus, and Mycoplasma canis.

Symptoms of kennel cough

  • Harsh, hacking cough with a “honking” sound (sounds like your dog has something caught in their throat)

  • Low fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Runny nose

  • Sneezing

  • Retching with the production of foam

  • Tracheal sensitivity (Dog coughs when pressure is applied to the trachea.)

  • In severe cases, pneumonia

Kennel Cough Diagnosis and Treatment

A diagnosis of kennel cough is usually based on a history of exposure and relevant clinical signs. In some more severe cases, a veterinarian will perform a complete blood count to look for evidence of infection and chest radiographs (x-rays) to look for signs of secondary pneumonia. In addition, a specific PCR test can be done that looks for a variety of respiratory pathogens and is done using a nasal or throat swab.

Kennel cough treatment depends on the severity of a dog’s illness. Mild cases often resolve on their own with no treatment. Young puppies, older dogs, and dogs with other illnesses are more likely to get sicker and may require more treatment. They may be prescribed antibiotics and cough suppressants. In the most severe cases where the dog develops pneumonia, hospitalization may be required. This can provide the dog with IV fluids/antibiotics and oxygen therapy.

Kennel Cough Prevention

There is a vaccine available for kennel cough. Many boarding facilities require your pet to have this vaccine before boarding. The vaccine is available in oral, intranasal, and injectable. Depending on which form your dog receives, two doses 4 weeks apart may be required, followed by a booster every 6 months to a year. Vaccination is only available for Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus, canine distemper, and canine influenza. Infections with other kennel cough causing organisms cannot be prevented, meaning that the vaccine is unfortunately not a 100% guarantee.

Mild, uncomplicated kennel cough symptoms can last 1-2 weeks. Dogs with more severe cases can have signs up to 3-6 weeks. If pneumonia is left untreated, it could become fatal.

Kennel Cough Care Tips

While your dog is recovering from kennel cough, we recommend using a harness (rather than a collar) to avoid pressure on the trachea. Also, keep your dog away from irritants such as cigarette smoke, cleaners, dust, etc.

Keep in mind that if you have more than one dog in the household, any others will most likely contract kennel cough and develop symptoms, and you should avoid dog parks, doggy daycare, and grooming while they have signs.


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