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Kennel Cough Symptoms and Ways to Help Your Dog Stay Comfortable

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Kennel cough is a common illness in dogs. Learn how to spot the signs, what you can do at home to help your pet stay comfortable, and when it's time to see a vet.

Kennel cough is a common illness in dogs. Learn how to spot the signs, what you can do at home to help your pet stay comfortable, and when it's time to see a vet.

Kennel Cough (Bordetella bronchiseptica)

Kennel cough (aka Bordetella) is a disease that affects the upper respiratory system in dogs. This affliction can be caused by either a virus or bacterium. Both the parainfluenza virus and the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium are thought to infect dogs with kennel cough, and sometimes a combination of the two is the root cause.

Is Kennel Cough Contagious?

Kennel cough is very contagious due to its airborne nature. It's particularly rampant in kennels where dogs are typically kept in confined and sometimes poorly ventilated, spaces. Even if your dog has been vaccinated against various viruses, they are still at risk of contracting kennel cough if they've been exposed to other infected dogs.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough

  • Dry cough
  • Vomiting or retching
  • Fever
  • Nasal discharge

The symptoms of kennel cough are easy to recognize and are often similar to those of a common cold in humans. They're typically more prominent in older dogs or young puppies since their immune systems are either compromised or not yet fully developed. Symptoms of kennel cough usually appear a few days after a dog has been exposed and can last between two to three weeks.

Fortunately, kennel cough in dogs is very manageable.

1. Dry Cough

The primary characteristic of this illness is a dry, hacking cough. Your dog may make honking sounds, or even sound like they are choking on something. Typically, the cough becomes much worse after lots of physical activity or exertion. The coughing results from inflammation in the trachea and larynx, which happens when the lining of the respiratory tract is weakened. This allows bacteria or a virus to wreak havoc on your dog's body.

If your dog's cough is particularly bad, a vet can prescribe a cough suppressant to help treat the symptom. At home, you should try to eliminate environmental stresses on the dog, such as cigarette smoke and other air pollutants like household cleaners. It's also important to keep your dog in a well-ventilated room that is not too warm or cold.

2. Vomiting or Retching

If a dog has kennel cough, they may also vomit up food or white phlegm. When your pet is sick, it's important that they stay hydrated and eat well. If they are having trouble keeping food down, try giving them dog bland food to help settle their stomach and speed up digestion.

Some dog experts recommend withholding food or fasting to help pets recover from nausea. While this can work with minor stomach ailments, you should consult with a vet first to see whether it's right for your dog.

3. Fever

Usually only seen in severe cases of kennel cough, fever is a tell-tale sign of infection. Dogs normally have a higher body temperature than humans, but if it reaches more than 103 F, then they technically have a fever. You may also be able to tell by observing other symptoms of fever, including shivering or lethargy. To confirm whether your pet has a fever, you can take his temperature rectally using a special thermometer created especially for dogs.

There are a couple of things you can do at home to reduce your pet's fever.

  • Try using a damp washcloth to moisten your dog's fur with fresh water. Once their temp drops below 103 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the washcloth.
  • Drinking lots of water can help reduce fever, but a sick dog isn't always thirsty. Try offering her ice cubes or water in a medicine dropper if your dog refuses to drink from a bowl.
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4. Nasal Discharge

Just like humans, dogs often get runny noses when they have a cold. Nasal discharge or discharge from the eyes is not uncommon in dogs with kennel cough.

To help with a runny nose at home, try placing your dog in a room with a humidifier or turning on the shower and letting the steam circulate throughout the bathroom. A small vaporizer can also be used to make the air moister, which will help clear up your dog's nasal passages. However, it's important to place the humidifier in an area where the dog can't reach.

A vet provides efficient and professional care for dogs with kennel cough.

A vet provides efficient and professional care for dogs with kennel cough.

When to See a Vet

It's important to realize that extreme cases of symptoms, such as a high fever or prolonged lethargy, can weaken your dog's immune system even more and put them at risk for more health complications.

There are several important instances in which a pet with kennel cough needs urgent medical care. For example, a dog with a fever of over 106 F should be taken immediately to see a vet. Dogs who become lethargic should also receive professional care since this may be a symptom of a more serious medical problem.

When taking care of your dog, always err on the side of caution. While you can care for many kennel cough symptoms at home, it's best to see a vet if the symptoms persist for more than a few days. You also need to be especially careful with older dogs and puppies due to their weakened immune systems.

Vets use special diagnostic tools, such as blood tests or x-ray scans, to accurately determine the cause of your dog's illness. For kennel cough, they can also prescribe helpful medication, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, and bronchodilators, to help boost your pet's immune system and ward off infection.

How to Prevent Kennel Cough

For the prevention of kennel cough, many vets will also administer a special vaccine that protects your dog against future bouts of the disease. And while the vaccine is not always 100% effective, many kennels now require owners to prevent proof of kennel cough vaccination before admitting their dogs.

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.


Donna H on September 19, 2018:

I found it very useful in helping diagnose kennel cough in my dogs. My dogs have all the classic symptoms. Now I can watch and take measures.

kristina brakenshalf on January 15, 2016:

thank you for this info but it didnt seem to work

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on September 12, 2013:

This has a wealth of useful information. Sometimes we forget that our Best Friends can get sick, too. Nice work here!

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