Vet's Blog > Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel Cough in Dogs

If you see your dog coughing and hacking persistently and seems like something is lodged inside his throat then it may likely that your four legged buddy is suffering from kennel cough. In some cases they may even choke in extreme cases.  Although kennel cough can sound terrible, most of the time it is not a serious condition, and most dog will recover without treatment.


What do you understand by kennel cough?

Kennel cough which is also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis is a contagious disease of the upper respiratory system that is caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria. The main two are Bordetella bronchiseptica  (that is why it is called  Bordetella) and canine parainflenza virus. Beside the infection by Bordetella many virus can infect the dog like canine adeno virus, distemper virus, canine reo virus and canine parainfluenza  which can make the matter worse. These pathogens attack the respiratory tract like larynx (voice box), trachea (wind pipe) and bronchi and destroy tiny hair like projection, or cilia. This will cause inflammation of the upper airway. This leads to irritation of the airways and a dry, non productive cough with distinctive honking sound. It also makes the animal more susceptible to a secondary infection. Although kennel cough is more common during summer, it can occur anytime

Many dogs that acquire Kennel Cough will cough every few minutes, all day long. Their general state of health and alertness will be unaffected; they usually have no rise in temperature, and do not lose their appetite.


The signs of Canine Cough usually will last from 7 to 21 days and can be very annoying for the dog and the dog’s owners.

Life-threatening cases of Kennel Cough are extremely rare and a vast majority of dogs that acquire the infection will recover on their own with no medication.


There are a number of factors that can weaken this protection and make dogs prone to kennel cough infection

These factors include:

  • Exposure to crowded and/or poorly ventilated conditions, such as are found in many kennels and shelters
  • Cold temperatures
  • Exposure to dust or cigarette smoke( if a owner is chain smoker)
  • Stress during long travel


What are the symptoms of Kennel cough?

Any dog can get kennel cough, but puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at a greater risk

However some the distinctive signs and symptoms are:

  • Unusual cough

The classic symptom of kennel cough is a persistent, forceful cough. It often sounds like a goose honk. Kennel cough causes a persistent, nonproductive cough that may sound as if something is caught in your pet’s throat and they are gagging or trying to clear their throat. Some owner mistakenly thinks that they have eaten something like bone or other object and that lodged in his throat.

  • Fever in some cases
  • Nasal Symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose or eye discharge.
  • Dog won’t lose their usual appetite and are normal and alert unless infected by secondary bacterial or viral infection.


How is it spread?

Kennel cough is highly contagious and can easily be spread from one dog to another. When dogs cough, the bacteria and viruses become airborne and can quickly spread to other animals. It can also be transmitted in dog toys, food bowls or other shared objects.

If you think your dog has the illness, keep him away from other animals to limit the spread.

How is Kennel Cough Transmitted?


It transmitted in a same ways as human catches cold from other infected person. The air borne organism is inhaled by healthy dog and then attach to the passage of trachea and upper airway tract, replicate in moist warm surface eventually damage the cells they infect.  The disease is named kennel cough as it is seen mostly in dogs kept in kennel which is overpopulated, with no proper ventilation and sanitation. However it can happen in any place where there is overcrowding of dogs. Many dogs will have protective levels of immunity to Kennel Cough via minor exposures to the infective organisms and simply will not acquire the disease even if exposed. Other dogs that has weak and suppressed immunity, subtle exposures will be susceptible to the Bordetella bacteria and associated viruses and develop the signs of coughing and hacking.



How diagnosis is made?

The vet will take complete history of past and do the through physical examination. Your veterinarian will examine your dog to exclude other causes of a nonproductive cough, such as heart disease, fungal and parasitic infections like heartworm disease, a collapsing trachea, and cancer. Dogs with kennel cough usually have a history of exposure, i.e. newly acquired pets from a shelter, pet store, or breeder, or pets that have recently been boarded, to a groomer, recent boarding, training classes, dog shows, or outings to dog parks. Based on the examination and history, your veterinarian will determine whether they suspect kennel cough. Washes of fluid from the trachea are sometimes taken to isolate the exact cause of cough.

What is the treatment for kennel cough?

Kennel cough can usually go away on its own (it is a self-limiting condition) most cases will clear up within three weeks and shouldn’t need any treatment at all.
However cough suppressant reduce paroxysms of dry coughing and make a dog more comfortable. Antibiotics are used on individuals at risk from secondary infection, those with affected lungs. Bronchodilators are beneficial for dogs with narrowed or constricted air passage. Medication to break down mucus is also sometime used by vets..In Certain circumstances , a corticosteroid is needed to suppress coughing and reduce inflammation.
    Supportive therapy is also necessary. This include rest and avoidance of stressful situations like travelling, kennel boarding that can trigger a coughing attack.
What happens if kennel cough is left untreated for long time?
If left untreated, kennel cough can lead to pneumonia or even death. And even if it’s not kennel cough, are other dog disease signifiers so getting him to Vet as quickly as possible can help get to the root of his sickness
 What are the preventive measures?
Environment in which kennel cough has occurred should be cleaned with half hour exposure to chlorine bleach, diluted 1:32 in water. Bordetella vaccine given intranasally stimulates local immunity within  respiratory tract, but this protection only last from two to nine month.  If  you plan to board your dog, or protect it from exposure, remember to vaccinate a few weeks prior to potential exposure. Injection of vaccine against CAV-2( canine adenovirus) and para influenza reduce but do not eliminate the risk of kennel cough.

Vet’s advice

Kennel cough is not the only cause of coughing. A dog may chew raw object that damages its throat can also cough similar to hacking kennel cough. The most concerned cough is heart cough in which heart inefficiency or disease like congestive heart failure can cause fluid to collect in lung. This buildup, in turns, triggers non productive coughing. It is easy to confuse the early stages of heart cough with mild kennel cough. If your dog starts to cough, visit your vet.





Written by Dr Pratik Man Pradhan B.V.Sc &A.H

Chief Veterinarian (Mount Everest Kennel Club)