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Home > Dogs > Kennel Cough in Dogs: Vet Approved Signs & Treatment

Kennel Cough in Dogs: Vet Approved Signs & Treatment

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Is your dog excessively coughing or making sounds as if they’re 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 most cases.

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 regarding kennel cough in your dog.

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Advice and information provided in this article has been fact checked by a veterinarian, but is not a replacement for a veterinary clinical examination. Only a vet that examines your dog may establish the diagnosis of kennel cough. There are many other illnesses in dogs that may present similarly, some of which may be life threatening, and these include pneumonia, lung tumors, heart disease and heart failure, collapsing trachea and other. Do not self diagnose and we urge you to take your dog to the vet if they have developed a sudden cough, or particularly if they are suffering with heart disease. A cough can be a sign of a serious underlying illness and should never be overlooked.

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 responsible culprit. Dogs tend to contract viruses and Bordetella simultaneously, and the viruses make them more susceptible to infection by the Bordetella bacterium. Common viruses contracted along with Bordetella include canine parainfluenza virus, canine distemper virus, canine influenza, 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 infected 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 and viruses from an infected canine get released into the air and environment, including nearby surfaces, when the dog exhales. Another dog inhales and breathes in the bacteria and viruses. Usually, this wouldn’t be much of a problem as the cells and mucus that line 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 bronchi and trachea.

Some factors that can result in a weakened respiratory tract include cold temperatures, poorly ventilated environments, stress caused by travel, dust, smoke, concurrent illness, compromised immune system in very young or old animals, and more. Any of these could lower your dog’s ability to fight off infection, which could increase their chances of contracting kennel cough.

Kennel Cough Signs

In the early stages, kennel cough signs are almost identical to the signs 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 signs, 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
  • A persistent, intense cough that makes it sound like your dog is trying to cough something out
  • Sounds like choking or honking
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Fever

Treating Kennel Cough

sick dog
Image Credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

Generally, most dogs will recover from kennel cough without any help. It usually takes about 5 days to 3 weeks for the sickness to run its course, though it can persist for twice as long in some cases. In more severe or prolonged  cases, antibiotics might be administered to help kill off any bacterial infections. Your vet may also prescribe 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. Ensure they get plenty of rest and nutritious food to help their recovery. 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. You can offer your dog a small teaspoon of honey in lukewarm water, several times a day, to ease the cough and soothe the throat. You can use a humidifier or your bathroom as a steam room if your dog will tolerate it, as it may decrease airway irritation.

Keep your dog away from other dogs, as they may be contagious and continue shedding the bacteria and viruses for weeks and months after their signs have resolved.

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 they should have, especially if they are spending time around other dogs. There’s also a vaccine specifically for the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium. While it can help 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 signs.

The Bordetella vaccine can be administered in the form of a nasal vaccine, and it’s safe for dogs as young as 3 weeks. It provides about a year of protection and takes 3 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. If you or anyone in your family is immunocompromised, speak to your vet and general practitioner about the risks associated with the vaccine for people, although chances of contracting the illness is very rare.



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: Igor Normann, Shutterstock

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