Kennel Cough: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

kennel cough

Is your dog hacking and coughing? Does it sound like he’s choking on a hairball? He might have kennel cough. In some rare cases, it can develop into pneumonia, but fortunately, most cases of kennel cough resolve without treatment (just like when you get a common cold).

Read on for answers to common questions about kennel cough, such as:

  • What is kennel cough
  • What causes kennel cough?
  • Kennel cough symptoms
  • How to treat kennel cough
  • How to prevent kennel cough

What is kennel cough?

Also known as infectious tracheobronchitis (ITB), the term “kennel cough” is a bit misleading. Sure, your dog can absolutely get kennel cough while he’s in a kennel … but only if he’s near another dog who has the virus. 

There are plenty of other ways dogs contract kennel cough. Dogs (adults and puppies alike) can catch kennel cough by coming into contact with any other infected dog, whether it’s at the park, doggy daycare or obedience class.

What causes kennel cough?

The most common type of kennel cough is caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica m. Your dog’s respiratory tract is lined with mucus designed to trap infectious particles and prevent him from getting sick. But he may be more susceptible to this bacterium if he’s picked up a coexisting virus, such as:

  • canine distemper virus
  • canine adenovirus
  • canine herpes virus
  • canine reovirus
  • or parainfluenza

When dogs are in overcrowded or poorly ventilated areas, such as shelters or (you guessed it) kennels, it’s much easier for infectious viruses to spread. Cold temperatures, stress and exposure to dust or smoke can also make your dog more susceptible to kennel cough. 

Kennel Cough Symptoms

The most obvious symptom of kennel cough is a persistent dry cough. Sometimes, dogs will also show symptoms similar to those you’d see from your own common cold, like runny nose, sneezing and congestion

You might also notice discharge from your dog’s eyes, and he may have a loss of appetite and seem a little more lethargic than normal.

How to treat kennel cough

Most dogs will recover just fine all on their own (without medical treatment). However, it’s always wise to talk to your vet at the first signs of kennel cough -- to confirm a proper diagnosis and rule out any other potentially dangerous conditions. Better safe than sorry, we always say.

If the symptoms are strong enough, or if your dog isn’t recovering on his own, your vet may recommend a dose of antibiotics to help clear up the infection. He might also send you home with some cough suppressants to make your pup more comfortable so he can get some much-needed rest.

It’s up to you and your vet to decide if antibiotics are the right choice for your dog. Remember, when it comes to medication, it’s all about finding that careful balance between risk and reward.

How to prevent kennel cough

FACT: Kennel cough is contagious. There’s no getting around that.

If you suspect your dog has kennel cough (due to Bordetella or a virus), keep him isolated away from other animals to avoid spreading the infection

Likewise, if you suspect another dog has kennel cough, keep your dog away from him. 

Now, let’s talk about the sometimes controversial topic of vaccines. 

(Duh-duh-duhhh!)

Don’t worry, we’re not going to impose our own opinions on you. We’ll share the pros and cons then you can make your own decision about what’s right for your pup.

Reasons to consider the kennel cough vaccination

  • Kennel cough is the most likely disease your dog will be exposed to
  • The vaccine is cheap
  • Vaccination could save you from incurring larger vet bills if your dog were to become very sick due to kennel cough complications
  • Dogs who frequently visit a kennel, dog park, or are around lots of other dogs are at higher risk for contracting the disease
  • There are two relatively non-invasive dosing options: injection or intranasal

Reasons to avoid kennel cough vaccination

  • It’s a “non-core” vaccine, which means it’s optional
  • Dogs who rarely come into contact with other dogs are at a lower risk of contracting the disease
  • Kennel cough is the least harmful of any diseases vets currently vaccinate against
  • Dogs do not require inoculations to be healthy

Some vets say an annual kennel cough vaccine will do, while others say twice a year is better. It really comes down to how you feel about vaccinating your dog and how you feel about the risks associated with not having your dog vaccinated against kennel cough.