Dog Behind Fence

If you have ever boarded your dog or taken them to a groomer, you have probably heard of a condition called kennel cough. However, you may be unclear about exactly what it is, whether it is serious, how to treat it and how to prevent it in the first place. Becoming a kennel cough expert can help you to ensure that your furry companion remains healthy, happy and kennel cough-free.

What is Kennel Cough?

This contagious disease is very common and leads to upper respiratory symptoms such as coughing in your pet. The symptoms can leave your dog feeling quite uncomfortable and can even make them vulnerable to more serious complications. Fortunately, kennel cough is both treatable and preventable with good veterinary care.

What Causes Kennel Cough?

Another name for kennel cough is infectious tracheobronchitis. It can be caused by any number of viruses or bacteria or a combination of several. Common culprits include the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica and viruses such as the canine influenza virus, canine parainfluenza virus and canine adenovirus type-2. The most common cause is Bordetella bronchiseptica, which explains why kennel cough is often referred to simply as Bordetella.

How Serious is Kennel Cough?

The good news is that kennel cough is usually not fatal. Most dogs recover just fine from the condition, although many will be quite uncomfortable from the associated coughing and sore throat while the disease is active. In rare cases, the disease can progress to pneumonia, which actually may lead to death. This can particularly happen to very young or old dogs and those with compromised immune systems.

Kennel Cough Symptoms to Look For

The following symptoms commonly occur in dogs with kennel cough:

  • Loud honking or hacking cough. It may seem like your pup has something stuck in its throat, and they may expel a foamy liquid that looks similar to vomit.
  • Sensitivity around the tracheal area. If you stroke your dog’s windpipe, they may start coughing.
  • Gagging, retching or wheezing.
  • Watery eyes or ocular discharge.
  • Runny nose or sneezing.

In most cases, your dog will act normally with the exception of these symptoms. However, you should seek veterinary care immediately if it looks like your pooch is having trouble breathing.

How is Kennel Cough Transmitted?

Kennel cough is mainly spread from one dog to another via droplets from coughing or sneezing. In addition, it can be passed via direct contact between dogs or with contaminated objects like toys, bedding and food bowls. The incubation period is anywhere between two and 14 days, which means that one animal can transmit the disease to another before they even begin to show symptoms themselves.

Kennel Cough Risk Factors

Pups who are frequently in contact with other dogs are at higher risk of getting kennel cough. Potential higher-risk activities or environments include:

  • Groomers.
  • Day-care centers.
  • Boarding sites.
  • Dog parks.
  • Training events.
  • Dog shows.

Dogs can also be at higher risk of contracting the condition if they are stressed or live in over-crowded, poorly ventilated or cold conditions.

How is Kennel Cough Diagnosed?

Since these symptoms can be related to diseases other than Bordetella, it is important to get an expert diagnosis from your veterinarian. They will start by doing a complete physical examination and asking you whether your fur baby has been in recent contact with other dogs. In an otherwise healthy animal who has a recent history of exposure to other dogs, this might be enough information to enable your vet to diagnose kennel cough and begin treatment. In other situations, extra diagnostic or infectious disease testing may be needed. The good news is that most dogs respond quickly to treatment, with full resolution in one to two weeks.

How is Kennel Cough Treated?

There are several common ways that veterinarians recommend to treat kennel cough:

  • A course of antibiotics. These kill the bacteria if the condition is bacterial in nature. If the cough is viral, antibiotics may still be used because they are very effective at preventing secondary infections that commonly occur.
  • Cough suppressants, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain meds. These help to relieve the discomfort stemming from your dog’s persistent cough.
  • Placing a humidifier (with no oils or medications) near your dog’s bed.
  • Encouraging rest and discouraging strenuous activity.
  • Keeping your pup hydrated.
  • Removing your dog’s collar to reduce pressure on the windpipe. When taking them outside, try a harness instead.
  • Feeding your dog softened or canned food that is easier to swallow.
  • Avoiding smoke, dust and other inhalable irritants in your home.

If you have more than one dog, try to keep your sick dog separate, and wash your hands after coming into contact with them.

Preventing Kennel Cough

Vaccination is one of the best ways you can keep your dog from getting kennel cough. Talk to your veterinarian about what type would be best given your dog’s particular geographical location and lifestyle. Then be sure your pet receives boosters at the recommended times. Even then, there is still a chance that your canine buddy will contract the disease. However, up-to-date vaccines help to bring about milder disease and a faster recovery.

Being careful about the places where you take your dog can also be helpful. For instance, choose a groomer or day care that requires every animal in the facility to have updated vaccinations and has a good air filtration system. Furthermore, you may want to ask what protocols they have in place to isolate dogs who begin to display symptoms of coughing.

The bottom line is that kennel cough is usually not serious and generally can be treated quickly and effectively. If you begin to suspect that your pup’s symptoms may be Bordetella, make a call to your veterinarian right away. The sooner you begin treatment, the faster your fur baby will recover and the more comfortable they will be.