How to Protect Your Dog From Kennel Cough

Dog coughing
The most common sign of kennel cough in dogs is a blaring, hacking cough like a goose honk.

If your dog has kennel cough, you’ll no doubt hear about it: A blaring, hacking cough like a goose honk is the most common sign. Affected dogs will often retch and gag, as if trying to dislodge something from their throats.

This extremely contagious respiratory disease, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, isn’t always caused by a single organism. In fact, it often involves a number of them. Common canine viruses including distemper, adenovirus type 2, parainfluenza, reovirus or herpes virus may be involved, as well as bacteria such as Bordetella bronchiseptica or even other organisms. 

Aptly nicknamed “kennel cough,” the infection is commonly associated with places where dogs are exposed to other dogs, such as kennels, shelters, grooming facilities, dog shows and pet shops.

A Very Catchy Disease 

When an infected dog coughs, viruses and bacteria are dispersed into the air. Other dogs become infected when they inhale these infectious organisms, which, in turn, irritate the lining of their respiratory tracts, making them vulnerable to other organisms.

Dogs don’t need to have direct contact with sick dogs to become infected. The viruses and bacteria can even spread on toys and food and water bowls. Depending on the organisms involved, dogs will start to show signs four to 10 days after infection.

Coughing, Hacking and Retching

With a mild, uncomplicated infection, your dog may have a dry, unproductive cough (meaning he doesn't bring up phlegm or mucus when he coughs) that can worsen when he exercises, is excited or pulls against his collar. Usually, he’ll still have plenty of energy and an appetite. 

Signs of a secondary bacterial infection can include lethargy, nasal discharge and loss of appetite. The infection can also spread deeper into the lungs, leading to pneumonia, which can be life threatening. In such severe cases, dogs may have a wet, productive cough (bringing up phlegm or mucus), difficulty breathing, fever and weight loss.   

Diagnosis and Treatment 

Your veterinarian can usually diagnose kennel cough based on your dog’s history and clinical signs, along with a physical exam. In many cases, simply placing gentle pressure on the trachea will elicit the telltale coughing. To help determine the severity of infection, your veterinarian may recommend additional tests, such as bloodwork and X-rays. If necessary, other tests can help identify the exact organisms involved, to help guide treatment. 

All dogs with kennel cough should be isolated for at least two weeks to help prevent exposing other dogs to the infectious organisms. Although kennel cough is typically not spread to humans, people who are immunocompromised may be at risk for certain bacterial agents. 


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