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Kennel Cough in Dogs

What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough, also referred to as canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) or infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory illness in dogs. If you observe your dog coughing, kennel cough may be the cause. It manifests as a dry, hacking cough, resembling as if your furry companion has something lodged in its throat.

While kennel cough can exhibit mild symptoms in some dogs, it can escalate to life-threatening pneumonia in others. Hence, it is crucial to be able to identify the symptoms of kennel cough and promptly seek treatment. Fortunately, there exists a kennel cough vaccination which can effectively prevent this condition in dogs.

Here’s a comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know about kennel cough in dogs—ranging from its definition and symptoms to treatment options and preventive measures.


  • A persistent, dry, hacking cough.
  • Nighttime coughing that disturbs both you and your dog’s sleep.
  • Retching accompanied by the production of white foam.
  • Tracheal sensitivity, noticeable when gentle pressure is applied to the trachea, causing your dog to cough.

Although kennel cough often resolves on its own without treatment, it can progress to more severe symptoms, particularly in neonate or geriatric dogs. Severe symptoms may include:

  • Lethargy.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fever.
  • Labored breathing.

If your dog exhibits severe symptoms, it is crucial to seek immediate veterinary attention for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.


  • Bordatella bronchiseptica bacteria
  • Canine adenovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Mycoplasma

The transmission of kennel cough typically occurs when a healthy dog comes into contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected dog. This can happen through coughing or sneezing, and dogs may also contract the illness from contaminated objects such as toys, food bowls, or water bowls.

Common environments where dogs are at risk of exposure to kennel cough include:

  • Animal shelters
  • Boarding kennels
  • Dog daycare facilities
  • Grooming facilities
  • Dog parks

Kennel cough usually develops in dogs approximately three to four days after exposure to the causative agents.


In the majority of instances, vets can diagnose kennel cough based on the dog’s clinical symptoms, medical history, and how they respond to treatment.

Typically, determining the specific bacteria or virus causing the illness isn’t necessary. Nevertheless, diagnostic testing is advisable under the following circumstances:

  • Dogs showing signs of pneumonia.
  • Dogs not showing improvement with supportive care.
  • Dogs displaying symptoms of systemic disease.
  • Instances of an outbreak affecting multiple dogs.
  • To rule out other infectious respiratory conditions like canine influenza.

Blood work, specifically a complete blood count, may reveal an increased white blood cell count in dogs with pneumonia as a complicating factor.

Chest X-rays are typically inconclusive in mild to moderate cases of kennel cough. However, they are valuable for ruling out conditions like pneumonia, collapsing trachea, congestive heart failure, bronchitis, or other causes of coughing in dogs.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Assay is a commonly used test for detecting viruses and bacteria. Samples for this test are collected via nasal or throat swabs. It’s important to note that false negatives and positives can occur.

Additional testing methods may include transtracheal washing and bacterial culture in cases of persistent or recurring coughing.


Treatment for kennel cough varies based on the severity of the condition and the individual dog.

Mild Cases of Kennel Cough:

For mild cases, supportive care such as rest, proper nutrition, and hydration is often sufficient. Your veterinarian may prescribe a cough suppressant to alleviate coughing episodes. Typically, recovery takes one to two weeks, and some dogs may recover without any treatment.

Severe Cases of Kennel Cough:

In complicated cases, dogs may exhibit severe symptoms including persistent coughing, lethargy, and decreased appetite or thirst. If pneumonia develops, treatment may involve:

  • Hospitalization
  • Administration of intravenous fluids
  • Antibiotic therapy
  • Oxygen therapy may be necessary in certain cases.

Are There Home Remedies for Kennel Cough in Dogs?

Home remedies can be beneficial for mild cases of kennel cough, although it’s important to monitor your dog’s condition closely and seek veterinary care if symptoms worsen.

Here are some home remedies for mild cases of kennel cough:

  • Honey and Warm Water: Honey can help soothe the throat and reduce coughing. Mix 1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon of honey with warm water and offer it to your dog up to three times a day.
  • Humidifier: Using a small humidifier near your dog’s resting area can moisten the air, reducing respiratory tract irritation.
  • Steam Therapy: Allow your coughing dog to stay in the bathroom while you take a hot shower or bath (without being in the shower or bath). The steam can provide relief and reduce irritation.
  • Holistic Antioxidants: Some holistic antioxidants like dimethylglycine (DMG) can boost the immune system and aid in fighting off the virus faster.
  • Rest: Ensure your dog gets plenty of rest to aid in recovery. Reduce exercise to minimize coughing spells.

Is Kennel Cough Fatal?

While most dogs recover without complications, some may develop severe pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. Dogs at higher risk of complications include:

  • Puppies with immature immune systems.
  • Older dogs with weakened immune defenses or underlying health conditions.
  • Pregnant dogs with lower immunity.
  • Dogs with pre-existing respiratory diseases.

Living and Management

During your dog’s recovery from kennel cough at home, it’s important to steer clear of irritants like household cleaners, cigarette smoke, and dust. These substances can exacerbate irritation and prolong your dog’s healing process. If your dog has kennel cough or is in the recovery phase, refrain from using a collar and leash. Instead, opt for harnesses during walks, as collars with leashes can exert additional pressure on the trachea, triggering coughing.


To reduce the likelihood of your pet contracting kennel cough, it’s advisable to vaccinate them against one of its common causes, Bordetella bronchiseptica. When selecting grooming facilities, daycare centers, or arranging playdates for your dog, inquire about their vaccine mandates to ensure that the dogs your pet will interact with are also vaccinated. While fully vaccinated dogs can still be susceptible to kennel cough, adhering to this preventive measure may contribute to safeguarding your pet’s health.

Kennel Cough in Dogs FAQs

What are the typical sounds of kennel cough?

Kennel cough often presents as a dry, hacking cough, sometimes resembling a goose honk. Pet owners may mistake it for something caught in the throat or an attempt to expel something.

How long does kennel cough last?

Dogs with mild cases of kennel cough usually recover within one to two weeks, experiencing only mild symptoms. Their prognosis is generally good. However, complicated cases may persist for three to six weeks, particularly if pneumonia develops, which could be fatal.

How can kennel cough be treated at home?

Utilizing holistic antioxidants for dogs, like dimethylglycine (DMG), can aid in boosting the immune system to combat the virus more effectively. Nebulization, under veterinary supervision, can also be beneficial. This can be done using a nebulizer from a human or canine pharmacy, or by creating steam in a bathroom and allowing the dog to inhale it for 5–15 minutes multiple times daily to moisten the airways and reduce irritation. Additionally, using a room humidifier in the dog’s sleeping area can help alleviate respiratory tract irritation. During recovery, ensure your dog gets plenty of rest and avoid activities that may strain them. Also, steer clear of irritants like aerosol sprays, household cleaners, incense, and cigarette smoke.

Is sneezing a symptom of kennel cough?

Sneezing, often in the form of a “reverse sneeze,” can indicate kennel cough. It is typically a result of throat or nasopharynx irritation or postnasal drip.

How long is kennel cough contagious?

The virus can continue to be shed for one to three weeks after infection, making it crucial to keep your dog away from others during this period to prevent transmission. Your veterinarian will provide guidance on when it’s safe for your dog to socialize with other dogs again.

Can I give my dog over-the-counter medication for kennel cough?

Avoid administering human medications to your dog. Instead, consider holistic antioxidants like dimethylglycine (DMG), which can be purchased as a supplement from most pet retailers to aid in boosting their immune system.

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