Kennel cough

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is the name commonly given to the respiratory infection, tracheobronchitis – a condition caused by the bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus. Kennel cough is highly contagious, with most dogs contracting the disease at least once in their lifetime. As the name suggests, kennel cough is normally picked up in places where large numbers of dogs are kept together, such as daycare, boarding kennels, dog shows and grooming facilities.  


How do dogs catch kennel cough?

Kennel cough is spread through airborne droplets; for example, when a dog coughs or sneezes, and can even be transmitted when a dog sheds dander. It can also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as toys or feeding dishes, or through direct contact with an infected dog. The bacteria and virus can survive on surfaces for hours before they are ingested by another dog, and some dogs will carry the disease for several months without showing any symptoms.

Like common colds in humans, dogs can catch kennel cough multiple times throughout their lifetime. However, a dog will be more prone to catching kennel cough if they have a weakened immune system. Stress, cold temperatures and poor ventilation can also leave a dog’s respiratory system more vulnerable to contracting the illness. 


What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

The most common sign of kennel cough is a persistent, hacking cough, which may sound like your dog is choking or gagging.  In mild cases, your dog may seem perfectly healthy aside from experiencing regular coughing fits. However, other symptoms may include a runny nose, sneezing, retching and, in more severe cases, lethargy, loss of appetite and a fever. 

The symptoms of kennel cough will be extremely uncomfortable for your dog, so it’s important to obtain a diagnosis and advice around the best course of treatment for your pet as soon as you can. 


How is kennel cough diagnosed? 

Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your dog has kennel cough by looking at their symptoms and recent history of exposure to other dogs. If they have developed a hacking cough after recently spending time with a large group of canines, then it’s normally safe to say they have contracted the illness.  
If there are suspected complications, then your veterinarian may conduct tests to identify the exact micro-organisms that are causing the kennel cough so they can treat your dog’s symptoms is the most effective way and prevent against a secondary infection. 


What is the treatment for kennel cough? 

The good news is that kennel cough is highly treatable. In fact, most dogs will recover within three weeks without the need for any medical treatment. However, it is always important to pay a visit to your veterinarian in case the symptoms are the result of something more sinister, such as asthma, bronchitis or even heart disease and to get professional advice on the best course of treatment.  

If your dog is active and eating normally, then your veterinarian will usually just recommend plenty of extra rest and TLC. It’s a good idea to walk your dog with a harness until they are fully recovered, as a collar and lead could aggravate their symptoms further. In more serious cases, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatories to help make your dog more comfortable and speed up their recovery.  

If kennel cough is left untreated, your dog could suffer from complications or may even pick up another infection, such as pneumonia. Puppies, older dogs and more vulnerable dogs, such as pregnant bitches or dogs with pre-existing respiratory conditions, may take up to six weeks to recover and are more likely to suffer from complications, so it’s important to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible if you think your dog may have contracted the illness. 


Can kennel cough be prevented? 

Kennel cough cannot be prevented entirely, however there are precautions you can take to help reduce the chances of your dog contracting the illness: 

  • As kennel cough is easily transmitted, it’s important that infected dogs are isolated from other canines for at least two weeks.  
  • Sanitizing any contaminated areas, toys and surfaces will also help prevent the illness spreading. 
  • If your dog is in good health, they are less susceptible to catching infections such as kennel cough, so ensuring your dog stays active and receives the right nutrition can make them more resilient to the illness. 


Kennel cough vaccination

Vaccinations are available against the bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, which is the most common organism associated with kennel cough. Puppies can be given the vaccination from just two weeks and your dog will need a booster every year to maintain their immunity. 

Reputable kennels and boarding facilities will normally insist your dog is given an additional bordetella bronchiseptica booster vaccine before their stay, so always check their vaccinations policy if you are concerned about kennel cough.  

Even vaccinated dogs are susceptible to other forms of the kennel cough virus, so it’s important to be vigilant, particularly if you notice your dog is coughing or if you plan to introduce your dog to other dogs.