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Kennel Cough: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.

Kennel Cough Is Common in Dog Shelters

Kennel Cough Is Common in Dog Shelters

What Is Kennel Cough?

When Sasha, a three-year-old golden retriever, started coughing, her owner thought she had something stuck in her throat. She was coughing and then gagging as if her throat was irritated by something. When the cough did not resolve within 24 hours, he took Sasha to the vet concerned there must be something blocking her airway.

"My dog seems like he has something stuck in his throat" is something vets often hear from owners, and more often than not it means the dog has kennel cough.

Medically known as bordetella or infectious tracheobronchitis, kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection common in dogs that are gathered together in kennels (hence the name kennel cough) or at dog parks, dog shows, or just about anywhere where airborne viruses can spread from one dog to another.

Symptoms

Dogs affected by kennel cough will often develop symptoms about three to seven days after exposure. The most common symptoms are:

  • Dry hacking cough
  • "Something stuck in throat" behavior
  • Coughing after exercise
  • Gagging
  • Nasal discharge
  • Mucus expelled from mouth following cough
  • Lethargy (in severe cases)
  • Loss of appetite (in severe cases)
  • Fever (in severe cases)
  • Pneumonia (in very severe cases)
  • Death (in very rare instances)

In Sasha's case, her symptoms appeared a few days after having socialized with other dogs at a dog park. She had not been vaccinated that year against bordetella, so that made her particularly susceptible to the infection. Her health remained normal in some ways: her appetite remained, she was still playful, and her rectal temperature was 100.9o, which is considered normal.

Treatment

Kennel cough often resolves itself within two to three weeks. Antibiotics and sometimes cough suppressants are often prescribed to prevent complications and speed up recovery. In Sasha's case, a 14-day course was prescribed. She recovered pretty fast, and her cough gradually went away one week following treatment.

Minor cases are often treated at home by clearing up the airway with a non-medicated humidifier or by having the dog breathe in a bathroom full of hot water steam.

Administering Robitussin DM has proved helpful in minor cases, according to veterinarian Dawn Ruben. Nevertheless, as with any medication, it is highly advised to consult a vet first and seek information about side effects, correct dosage, and interactions with other medications.

Bordetella vaccines are very good at preventing this annoying respiratory infection. The vaccine may be administered intranasally or by traditional inoculation. The intranasal form appears to create immunity faster than the inoculation version.

Although kennel cough is a pretty common respiratory disease, any case of coughing needs to be monitored and investigated, as a cough can suggest other more serious problems, even potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, valley fever, or heartworms.

What Kennel Cough Sounds Like

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: My dog sounds as if he has kennel cough, but he has not been around any other dog; he is also very lethargic, even falling asleep while he is standing up! He has not wanted to eat for the last 2 days but the cough did not start until today. Could he have kennel cough without being exposed to it? I did recently clean out the spare bedroom, I read somewhere it can also be caused from dust.

Answer: Kennel cough in dogs can be caused by a wide variety of bacterial or viral agents. This happens through contagion, just as us humans get the cold from being around other humans with the cold. Dust cannot cause it, but in a dog with kennel cough dust/smoke or any other irritants may exacerbate it. Sometimes, dogs can get kennel cough without direct exposure e.g.from being in contact with people who have recently been in contact with a dog with kennel cough, or sniffing/licking an area where foxes, coyotes, have licked/coughed on. Your dog may have another condition considering the rather serious signs you are seeing (lethargic, not eating) which are not too common in kennel cough. Hopefully, it has not evolved into secondary pneumonia which can be seen in very young or very old dogs, or those with a compromised immune system.

© 2008 Adrienne Farricelli

Comments

Khem singh, Bulandshahr up,india on July 30, 2018:

My one year old jsd suffering with cold & cold, sneezing,

Karl Prust on July 29, 2018:

I wonder if kennel cough is caused by the stress of being abandoned by the owner for weeks at a time!!

kyle on March 07, 2018:

my dog is 11 weeks old he is a australian bluehealer and he had a bad cough has benn puking all over the place what should i do

Tina on September 30, 2017:

My Chihuahua (2 lbs) was outside unattended today. He has been gagging and acting like something is stuck in his throat. I tried looking and couldn't see anything, what should I do?

Dollie keys on May 19, 2017:

I have a boxer she is 12 weeks old she has a cough it started on 5/18/17 I called the vet and they gave me someDoxycycline and I have to give her one pill every 12 Hours .i hope that this will help her ,I so sad ..

littlebuku on February 22, 2017:

how long does kennel cough last?

Lyn Bromley on January 09, 2017:

My dog is a 6year Pom, he has started coughing like something hung in his throat, and sneezing. He does not seem to be effected by it when he is sleeping? Is this something the vet should look at?

Lb489115@tds.net

BrendensMom on March 07, 2016:

This was so helpful!! My dog is having these exact symptoms thanks so much I thought he was dying!! ssshhhhhh I feel better .

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 27, 2014:

Is your other dog vaccinated for bordetella?

donna on November 27, 2014:

We just rescued our 4 month old lab from the pound a week ago as a companion to our 6 month old lab. They have been connected at the hip since day 1. 3 days ago I started noticing a hacking cough resulting in a flemy mucousfrom my kennel puppy. I thought she had something stuck in her throat now after doing some research I believe it is the kennel cough. What I worry about is that since the two of them have been together so much that my other dog will contract the cough or if there is any preventive measures other then separating them. Also is the cough contagious to cats?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 03, 2014:

Could be a variety of things, this hub shows some causes of coughing up white phlegm, please see your vet for an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Why-is-my-Dog-Coughing...

Tiffany on June 03, 2014:

My dog is five and has developed a cough like he's choking and a white phlegm, is this kennel vough?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 17, 2014:

It could be she eats them very fast causing her to choke, but if she keeps coughing she should be checked out for other causes of coughing. Don't let it become a habit though as cat food has different protein levels than dog food and can cause nutritional imbalances.

Dragongirl@windstream.net on February 17, 2014:

Can cat food cause dogs to cough? My female boxer loves to sneak into the cats dry food. She hasn't been exposed to any new dogs but shes coughing like she has a hairball. Was wondering if a possible hairball remendy was in the cats food causing the cough?

sugarbear on March 16, 2013:

Hi my name is Tammy & my pom is vomiting & coughing and I thought she was crying but I believe she ie wheezing. This is the 3rd day.pray for my sweet sugarbear. I love her so much.Iam getting her meds 1st thing in the morning. LOU, KY.40272 VALLEY STATION

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 28, 2012:

Keeping her indoors is the best bet as you can better keep an eye on her for any worrisome symptoms and prevent the spread of the disease which can be transmitted to other dogs. Your dog may also benefit from a humid environment , home humidifier or vaporizer may be helpful to sooth a dry cough. Best wishes!

germangurl74 on July 28, 2012:

Our lil emma is 4 mos old, is currently on her second round of antibiotic for an uti, just had her last set of shots last week and has kennel cough since yesterday. I have nor been to the vet yet, but she has all the signs of it. We had planned to go on vacation next week, but think we need to cancel now because of emma being sick. She would have to stay outside in her kennel. What do you recommend? Would she be ok outside? I thought if I had a cold I wouldn't wanna be camping outside.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 02, 2012:

Talk to the vet that prescribed the antibiotics. Your vet knows your pet's history best so perhaps he can prescribe another medication to calm the coughing. Best wishes.

Maria on July 02, 2012:

Hi my puppy is 11 weeks and developed a cough 6 days ago which began dry and he was gagging like he had something in his throat. Now the cough is chesty and bubbly. Can this be kennel cough? We bought him from a breeder and he was mixed with other puppies. He has been on antibiotics for 3 days now but still has it. I am really worried what do u suggest?

Stephanie P. on June 02, 2012:

Thank you! We were worried about our new puppy and weren't sure if this was worth an emergency trip. Your article and attached video are exactly what is happening. I feel comfortable waiting until Monday now. Thanks so much!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 27, 2012:

It is hard to say. Has she been around other dogs lately? A cough upon exertion is not normal, so a vet visit is recommended. If this happens only after biting something it could be particles swallowed make her cough.

Kim on April 27, 2012:

Hi,

My Corgi will cough when we play with him. Usually he'll bite our comforter on the bed or his soft toysthen suddenly he'll cough afew times then stop. So is that Kennel cough? If so, what can i do to help? Visit to the vet?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 14, 2012:

Kennel cough tends to last a few weeks and comes from exposure to other dogs just as colds are spread from human to human. From your description the cough sounds seasonal. Never hurts to ask the opinion of another vet.

Amanda on April 13, 2012:

I have a 3 year old chihuahua, who suffers from a cough during the spring months, we were told that it was seasonal allergies, but after hearing the video it sounds the same, she has never been in a keenal and is not around other dogs. She is an inside dog, do you think it could be "kennel cough"?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 11, 2012:

Could be the dog had a heart condition (heart problems also cause coughing) or had heartworms. Could be also had a pulmonary infection. The best way to know would be with a necropsy, sorry to hear that.

Archie on April 11, 2012:

DOG is gone two weeks after a really bad cough and seeming recovery.

What are the possible reasons??

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 15, 2012:

I don't think there is much you can do to prevent infection at this point especially since you claim they were together for 3 days. Your vet is right; the intranasal form lasts 6 months, whereas the injection form typically lasts 8-9 months up to a year. The incubation time for bordetella is between 5-14 days before a cough is seen.

kmom08 on February 14, 2012:

We rescued a dog from the shelter 2 days before he was scheduled for euthanization (due to overpopulation). He is very sweet and loving, but after we got him home what we thought was just him clearing his airway as a cause of him being half pug turned out to be kennel cough. He is on an antibiotic and cough medication both prescribed by the vet. They also administered a nasal bordatella to my other dog who was given his yearly bordatella shot back in June to hopefully help boost it in his system. I was always told bordatella was a once a year shot, but the vet I went to yesterday said no it needs to be given every 6 months. So now I'm very worried my dog is going to catch this from our newly adopted dog. I'm keeping them separated as best as possible, but they had full contact with eachother for 3 full days. How long before my dog could show signs if he in fact caught the virus from our new dog? Just hoping for a quick recovery, and also when I asked the vet if I should be disinfecting my home they said there really is no need because it's airborn. Any suggestions, or cleaning in my home I should be doing?

fudge on January 13, 2012:

my 15 week old lad puppy has just started with what i think is kennel cough - i tried sticking my fingers down her throat thinking she was choking - all night long she has been gagging poor thing - she was at vets last night - they said not - but she never coughed once while we were there - watching videos posted im sure it is - so back to the vets again today - keeping her warm and rested today - its really worrying

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 05, 2011:

Nicky, the fact you still have antibiotics from other dogs suffering from kennel cough, makes me think that you have a tendency to not give the medications as prescribed. Antibiotics should be given as directed by a vet, this means that very likely the whole bottle should be finished. Your pug therefore may need a full course of antibiotics which may mean given from 10 days to 2 weeks, depending on the type of antibiotic used and your dog's condition. When kennel cough is not treated as needed, it could lead to pneumonia. I recommend a vet visit also because a pug's facial features makes it harder for them to breath when they are affected by respiratory disorders, best wishes!

nicky on December 05, 2011:

Sorry I meant is that normal? Not hotmail.

nicky on December 05, 2011:

I have a 6 month pug and he has at least we assume has kennel cough. We had previous dogs with kennel cough so antibiotics are still available for us but it's been going on for a week but for has been having a hard time breathing. Sometimes it appears as if hes suffocating. Is that hotmail because my other pugs did not have that. We tried giving him honey and put on a humidifier and it got slightly better but the suffocating sound is worse. Help!

Jan on October 09, 2011:

Would a dog cough all the time?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 03, 2011:

It is hard to say, it's like asking how long a person with a cold should stay away from others, it will vary. Generally, you would think a couple of weeks would suffix, but it is hard to say for sure.

Eden on September 27, 2011:

Hey, all the information above is great. however I have a 2month old Bull Arab that has developed kennel cough as we got him from the pound.. he has been on medication for 3 days and seems to be doing very well. but i also have a 4 year old Mastiff and was wondering how long i need to keep them apart. Its very difficult to keep them apart. My mastiff has been vaccinated but im told there are different strains and cannot be totally sure hes vaccinated for the right one. So any info would be great THANK YOU

Debbie on September 09, 2011:

Hiya

Just picked up my 6yr old lab from kennels, they told me he had developed kennel cough but he was at the end of it, as u would expect he is doing the dry cough a bit, as he's at the end stages of it as the people at the kennels said, do I need to do anything? Warm water instead of cold etc? He was at kennels for 8 days so how much longer would be expected till he recovers?

Any comments would be gratefully received

Thanx

Sam on September 02, 2011:

Thank you thank you thank you. I just rescued my puppy from the pound and he had been coughing and sneezing. I started to get worried that it was something worse but all of the comments calmed me down. He has been on meds for a few days now and hopefull will be getting better soon.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 11, 2011:

Also consider that yes, the virus mutates just as the human flu..

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 07, 2011:

no vaccine is actually 100 percent effective. also keep into consideration the type of vaccination given: if it was the injectable form of bordetella usually it takes 7 to 10 days to become effective, if it was the intranasal version it generally takes only 3 days...

Some vets also recommend giving the bordetella vaccine every 6 months..

gusnme on March 07, 2011:

my dog is seven months old we have given him all required and suggested shots and vaccinations including one for bordetella and yet he still got the virus. are their multiple strains of the virus like the common cold? I am trying to figure out why the "guaranteed" shots i was given by my vet did not prevent this. and can this virus be passed to humans?

Nancy G on October 23, 2010:

This was great site. Info was very informational. And helped my dog stop caughing.

Thank you so much.

Happy Pet Owners on August 17, 2010:

We did much search on-line thinking our curious beagle was choking. But it went on sporatically for 2 days.

The video you have on this link confirmed kennel cough - thank you for the info & specifically the video!

wendy landaverde on September 10, 2009:

thanks forposting this information is very heplful to have somekind of idea of what your dog has.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 13, 2009:

It is somewhat similar to the human cold perhaps resembling in some ways whooping cough. Some dogs may get a fever as well so if left outside they may shiver and feel lethargic. Dogs with kennel cough benefit from drinking warm broth to open the airways. However, just to be on the safe side, I would stay away from garlic because it has a history of causing Heinz disease (a form o anemia) in dogs and cats.

Ani on June 13, 2009:

If a dog has kennel cough will they get worse if you leave them outside and it is cold? Is it like a human flu should they be kept warm and fed garlic and etc?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 13, 2009:

It is indeed quite difficult to keep dogs separated, especially since germs are airborne, they should all go through it (but some may not get it depending on how strong their immune system is) and hopefully the virus will have runned its course. However, if they still keep on getting in contact with other dogs affected by it they may get it continuosly if not vaccinated.

1988pdm on April 10, 2009:

Tks v much. It was v imp to me that you followed up with:

"My dog started dry and then progressed into mucous at the ending stage. It was very annoying to deal with and this is why I always vaccinate against bordetella."

I now know, we're near the end and that we'll now vaccinate.

One complication. It's too impractical to separate the 2 infected dogs at home. Like a family cold, once it's gone through the house, will all be free from it? Or is KC so contageous, it'll just keep going around and around, from 1 dog to the other?

Kind regards,

Peter

Sydney, Aust.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 21, 2008:

Thank you for posting!

Yes, we used the same protocol when having dogs with suspected KC. Very, very contagious! I have seen some cough up mucous and other with a drier version.

My dog started dry and then progressed into mucous at the ending stage. It was very annoying to deal with and this is why I always vaccinate against bordetella.

Cindy Lawson from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on August 21, 2008:

Great advice, and it is also worth mentioning that Kennel Cough dogs will cough up small amounts of white mucous onto the floor. It is also really important to keep kennel cough dogs away from other dogs until they are well again. When I worked at a Vets we used to book any dog that sounded like a "suspected" kennel cough case as the last appointment of the day. We would then have to disinfect the whole clinic thoroughly afterwards, even though Kennel Cough is actually airborne, but the vet felt it was better to be on the safe side anyway.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 20, 2008:

Ohhhh, thanks so much! I am always happy when my hubs are helpful, take care and a kissy to your pup! If you ever need help with anything you can request a hub from me, I will be glad to write one for you,

kind regards

euhlala from Vancouver, BC on August 20, 2008:

I can't believe this just came over to me! My first little dog ever and guess what we just took him to the vet for a little over a week ago? I know why I'm a fan of this hubber - everything you've sent my way is so useful - especially since I'm new to this whole puppy/dog world. I can't say thank you enough!

Great article - keep it up!