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Kennel Cough in Dogs: Symptoms & Treatment

Dean Eby

June 20, 2021

Is your dog excessively coughing or making sounds as if it’s choking with no clear reason why? The culprit could be kennel cough, which is also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis. Don’t let the name scare you though. This is a pretty common condition and it’s not as serious as it sounds. In fact, for most dogs, it will disappear on its own without treatment. Still, it can be quite uncomfortable for someone to see their dog in clear discomfort and this type of sickness can easily cause a lot of stress and worry about your dog’s health. To help alleviate your worries, we’re going to take a closer look at kennel cough, how it’s treated, and what signs to look for of kennel cough in your dog.

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Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a common and extremely infectious canine disease. It’s often called Bordetella because the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica commonly causes it. Usually, Bordetella infection isn’t the sole sickness. Dogs tend to contract viruses and Bordetella simultaneously, and the virus makes them more susceptible to infection by the Bordetella bacterium. Common viruses contracted along with Bordetella include canine herpes virus, parainfluenza virus, canine distemper virus, canine reovirus, and canine adenovirus.

sick jack russell
Image Credit: Javier Brosch, Shutterstock

Causes of Kennel Cough

Because kennel cough is so contagious, dogs will generally contract it after coming into contact with other dogs. Kennels are one common place for kennel cough infection; hence the name. Other places dogs are likely to contract kennel cough include dog parks, dog shows, training groups, and doggie daycares.

Bacteria from an infected canine get released into the air when it exhales. Another dog inhales and breathes in the bacteria. Usually, this wouldn’t be much of a problem as the mucus that lines the respiratory tract can catch these bacteria. However, if the dog’s respiratory tract is weakened, it could mean that the bacteria get through, and inflammation is soon to occur in the larynx and trachea.

Some factors that can result in a weakened respiratory tract include cold temperatures, poorly ventilated environments, stress caused by travel, dust, smoke, and more. Any of these could lower your dog’s ability to fight off infection, which could increase its chances of contracting kennel cough.

Kennel Cough Symptoms

In the early stages, kennel cough symptoms are almost identical to the symptoms you’d see with canine influenza or distemper virus. This can make it a bit harder to diagnose. Additionally, other common conditions can cause a cough that’s similar to kennel cough, including bronchitis, asthma, heart disease, or a collapsing trachea. Still, if you see any of the following symptoms, give your vet a call and they can perform further testing to determine whether your dog is suffering from kennel cough or something else.

  • A persistent, intense cough that makes it sound like your dog is honking
  • Excessive sneezing
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Runny nose
  • Fever

Treating Kennel Cough

sick dog
Image Credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

Generally, dogs will recover from kennel cough without any help. It usually takes about three weeks for the sickness to run its course, though it can persist for twice as long in some cases. In extreme cases, antibiotics might be administered to help kill off any bacterial infections. You can also give your dog anti-inflammatory medications or cough suppressants in order to help them stay more comfortable on the road to recovery.

While your dog is recovering from kennel cough, make sure to keep your home well ventilated to help maintain respiratory health. Also, forgo the use of a collar or leash. Pulling on your dog’s throat could worsen conditions, so switch to a harness for walking.

Preventing Kennel Cough

One of the most surefire ways to prevent kennel cough is to vaccinate your dog against it. Many infections that can lead to kennel cough are covered in your dog’s basic vaccinations and boosters that it should already have. There’s also a vaccine specifically for the Bordetella bronchispetica bacterium. While it can prevent kennel cough, there are actually many strains of this bacterium, which means that protection against kennel cough is far from guaranteed. Still, even if it doesn’t prevent the sickness altogether, it should at least reduce the symptoms.

The Bordetella vaccine can be administered in the form of a nasal vaccine and it’s safe for dogs as young as three weeks. It provides about a year of protection and takes four days to take effect. Despite the fact that its protection against kennel cough isn’t guaranteed, many kennels and boarding facilities require dogs to have this vaccine in order to stay with them.



Kennel cough sounds scary, and it’ll sound even worse when your beloved canine is coughing up a lung. However, it’s not nearly as dangerous as it sounds, and in most cases, the sickness will clear up on its own in just a few weeks. In severe cases, it might be necessary to use antibiotics to help kill off the infection, which your vet can prescribe. The vaccine against the Bordetella bacterium can be an effective way of preventing this disease, though it’s far from guaranteed protection.

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Featured Image Credit: Igor Normann, Shutterstock

Dean Eby

An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan.  He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning.  An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.

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