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My Dog Has Kennel Cough: What Do I Need to Know?

Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.

Kennel cough in dogs and how to recognize it.

Kennel cough in dogs and how to recognize it.

Help! My Dog Has Kennel Cough

If your dog has kennel cough or infectious tracehobronchitis (ITB) as it is also called, you probably already know it by the sounds your pet is making.

Kennel cough is easily described, according to Dr. Cathy Alinovi of Hoofstock Veterinary Services, as a goose honk. To me it sounds like a cough with a hack at the end, like someone trying to cough up a loogie (ew, huh?). See the video below.

However, even though you may know your dog has kennel cough, you might be unsure about what to do next or how to protect your pet against future occurrences of ITB.

So What to Do Next?

In the following interview, Dr. Cathy tells you more about the symptoms and causes of kennel cough as well as how it is treated and prevented.

What Is the Kennel Cough Virus?

Dr. Cathy: The tricky thing about kennel cough is it’s not just one agent causing the disease. It starts out with one of two viruses causing a cough. When dogs get really sick, a bacterial infection is making the dog worse.

So, specifically, kennel cough is caused by one of two viruses: either parainfluenza virus or adenovirus, type 2. (Other viruses can also cause kennel cough, just not commonly.) Then, sometimes Bordatella bronchiseptica, the nasty bacterium that really causes problems, invades and makes the coughing dog much sicker.

Typically, the kennel cough incubation period is from 2 to 14 days. Usually, kennel cough lasts one to two weeks. However, I’ve seen it last six weeks.

Can a Dog Die From Kennel Cough?

In severe cases, with secondary invasion of the Bordatella bronchiseptica bacterium, mild illness can turn into pneumonia, which can definitely be life-threatening.

What Are the Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs?

Dr. Cathy: In uncomplicated kennel cough, the only symptom is the cough. Sometimes, these dogs also hack up a bit of mucus/phlegm. In complicated cases, the dog will have a cough, get a fever, lose its appetite, and it may even progress to pneumonia

It is highly contagious to the unvaccinated and stressed out dog. Dogs who’ve been infected with kennel cough are contagious up to four months.

Kennel cough should be treated by your veterinarian

Kennel cough should be treated by your veterinarian

Can Puppies Get Kennel Cough?

Dr. Cathy: Puppies in crowded situations are at very high risk. Shelters can’t help but struggle to prevent kennel cough problems because of many animals, poor ventilation, stress, and unknown history.

So, even though shelters vaccinate the animals upon arrival, it takes the immune system four days to respond to the vaccine, and it takes 2-14 days to become ill with the actual disease. It’s a race to see who wins.

What Can I Give My Dog for Kennel Cough?

Dr. Cathy: Typically, kennel cough is “treated” with antibiotics and/or a cough suppressant. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Antibiotics don’t treat viral infections, while they do treat bacterial infections. Coughing actually helps move mucus and bacteria out of the lungs.

If we suppress the cough, the mucus, with the potentially invasive bacteria, does not get moved out of the lungs. Some pet owners just need a break from their dog coughing all the time. So, sometimes, a short course of cough suppressant will at least help the family sleep (I don’t recommend it long-term).

The Kennel Cough Vaccine

Dr. Cathy: There are now three ways to vaccinate against kennel cough. The most common vaccine is given in the nose (intra-nasal). Some dogs have a major dislike for things in their nose and may become aggressive. For these dogs, the injectable (parenteral) vaccine is used.

Recently, an oral vaccine was developed that is easier to give than the intra-nasal version. What’s the difference? The intra-nasal version has the reputation of the best immunity, which develops in four days. The injectable version needs to be boostered within 30 days to have any benefit. The newest version, the oral vaccine, is probably the best option for more aggressive dogs so they get better immunity.

Another interesting thing about the vaccines: most kennel cough vaccines vaccinate against parainfluenza and/or adenovirus and Bordatella bronchiseptica. Many boarding kennels require annual or semi-annual revaccination.

Many studies show that, once dogs are vaccinated against parainfluenza and adenovirus, the dog has immunity to these viruses for at least six years, if not life. Published studies looking at duration of immunity for kennel cough only look as far as one year whereas the components are documented to give many years of protection.

What Are Some Kennel Cough Vaccine Side Effects?

Dr. Cathy: There are definitely people who think giving the vaccine causes problems, especially in those dogs who were exposed to live kennel cough at the time of vaccination. It says right on the box of Bronchi Shield III 25X1: “A very small percentage of animals may show sneezing, coughing or nasal discharge following vaccination. There signs are usually transient.”

Kennel Cough Home Remedies

Dr. Cathy: Home remedies are the nice, feel-good things that help anyone coughing feel better. Honey is well known to moisten and soothe the throat. Vitamin C and echinacea and can give the immune system that little boost it needs. Chicken soup—mmm—helps with hydration, tastes good, and is warming (the made from scratch version).

What Else Do You Want to Tell Pet Parents About Kennel Cough?

Dr. Cathy: My usual treatment method for uncomplicated kennel cough is a nice herbal anti-viral like Yin Qiao (this sometimes spelled Chiao and has been used to treat coughs since 1798), high-quality real food, and plenty to drink. I caution the family that if there is any worsening of signs to call right away so we don’t end up with a secondary bacterial infection.

There are other treatment methods available. Homeopathy does a nice job of treating—however, your homeopath needs a very detailed description of the cough to choose the right remedy— and depends on the presence of mucus and other symptoms. Acupuncture/pressure can help with the cough.

Why You Should Work With Your Veterinarian

This veterinary medical information is based on information provided during a telephone interview with a professional, qualified, retired veterinarian. However, it is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian.

Recommendations as to therapeutics, diagnostics, and best standards of practice in the veterinary industry and/or opinions between professionals may differ or change as technologies and information changes. You should not use this article as your sole source of information on any matter of veterinary health or attempt to self-diagnose or treat your pets as the information herein may not be appropriate for your pet. The safest option for you and your pet is to rely on the advice of your veterinarian to diagnose and recommend the best treatment options.

Reference sources

  • Dr. Cathy Alinovi is the retired owner of Hoofstock Veterinary Services, Hoopeson Clinic, and co-author of a cookbook for pets called Dinner PAWsible.
  • Packaging information, Bronchi Shield III 25X1

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.

© 2013 Donna Cosmato

Has your dog ever had kennel cough?

Christine Smith on September 11, 2019:

Yes he has it now

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on April 22, 2013:

Thank you for reading this dog health hub and leaving your feedback, dogfond. The use of natural remedies is usually preferable whenever possible, aren't they? I'm glad you found this useful.

dogfond on April 21, 2013:

Hi Donna, another great hub! I've been following you and I should say this is another interesting hub, very detailed and informative. Kennel cough symptoms can be very frustrating but it could go naturally on his own. I really don't give my dogs antibiotics or other drugs but home remedies are very helpful to stay on the safe side.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on January 31, 2013:

Thank you for the positive feedback Minnetonka Twin! I'm so glad your dog is better now, and thank you for reading this hub and voting it up.

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on January 30, 2013:

Excellent article on Kennel Cough. You did a thorough job of educating your readers on this problem. One of my two adopted dogs came home with kennel cough. It sounded so bad that we got really scared and brought him into the vet. She basically said he would be fine within a couple weeks and that's exactly what happened. I voted up and hit many buttons.