Kennel Cough: Symptoms and Treatment

A dog is a man’s best friend. Loyal, friendly, and provider of companionship no matter the time of day. Owners strive to treat the dog like one of their own children. They will do their utmost to make sure their four-legged friend remains happy and healthy.

Unfortunately, like with humans, illness can strike, and make life for owner and pet a little more difficult. One of the most common illnesses and one of the most infectious among dogs is kennel cough.  What is it though and how can you help your dog recover from it or avoid it in the future?

At PBS Pet Travel, we love dogs, so wanted to share our knowledge to help you help your pooch.


What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is really more of a symptom than a specific disease. It is most commonly attributed to a hacking, painful-sounding cough in dogs. It is a highly contagious illness that attacks the respiratory system. Despite its name, the dog does not have to have stayed in a kennel to catch it. It is a name you will often see attached to infectious bronchitis in dogs and can make a dog ill for several weeks.

Most commonly the symptoms of kennel cough are caused by a bacterial infection of Bordetella bronchiseptica.  A variety of other bacteria and pathogens can cause the symptoms we describe as kennel cough too though. Examples can include canine distemper and canine adenovirus.

There are multiple strains of kennel cough and whilst treatable, it is much like the common cold in humans and can return multiple times through a variety of strains. As a result, there is no lasting immunity to it. The main identifier of it is the hacking cough that can sound like the dog has something stuck in its throat.

Whatever the causes, whilst kennel cough both looks and sounds unpleasant, most dogs make a full and rapid recovery. It is those immunocompromised individuals like puppies and older dogs in which kennel cough can flare up, allowing other secondary infections to gain a hold. Here further veterinary care will most likely be required in order to return your pet to full health.


How do dogs get kennel cough?

Kennel cough is transmitted through the air but is also found on items such as toys, bedding, bowls, or any other shared item.  In part, this is where the name comes from due to the shared use of equipment in kennels.

Whilst dogs, on the whole, can cope with a variety of airborne microbes, certain environments can provoke a reaction within their respiratory system. These can include but are not limited to, crowded environments, cigarette smoke, heavy dust, cold temperatures, and poor ventilation. In some cases, the kennel cough may be carried by the dog but show absolutely no symptoms for months.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

Kennel cough is best defined as an infection of the respiratory tract. This infection causes inflammation which leads to the range of symptoms observed in canines. Most commonly this takes the form of a hacking, retching cough which can sound terrible.

Most of the time, aside from a hacking cough, your dog will appear just as healthy as normal. Sometimes they may develop a runny nose, they may even sneeze and have a discharge from the eyes. In many cases, the symptoms can take up to 14 days to make themselves known. Therefore it is also worth looking out for a reduced appetite, a high temperature, or the dog showing less energy than normal. Spotting any of these things early can help you to help your pet.

In more extreme cases repeated coughing can lead to vomiting.  Additionally, in dogs with less effective immune systems, the pathogen causing the initial problem may allow other less pleasant infections to take hold. In such situations, pneumonia or fever may be encountered.

Are some kennel coughs worse than others?

If your dog, on the whole is healthy, the cough may be all you see to indicate that your dog is unwell. However, the variety of strains means that some can be much worse than others. Whilst the kennel cough itself may not cause serious or permanent harm to your pet, the cough that it exhibits will sound very similar to one associated with lung cancer, heart failure or pneumonia. Therefore, if you are genuinely concerned about the health of your pet, contact your vet as soon as possible.

How to treat kennel cough?

More often than not, dogs will recover from kennel cough within a few weeks, but it can stay in their system for up to 6 weeks. In some cases, you can be prescribed antibiotics for your dog. In others you may be offered anti-inflammatories should their temperature need to be reduced or should they have any internal inflammation.

With a severe cough, vets may also suggest an x-ray to rule out any of the other more dangerous illnesses associated with respiratory issues.

In typical cases of kennel cough, you should try and encourage plenty of rest and abstain from the use of a collar and lead. Anything that puts increased strain on their respiratory system should be avoided. Harnesses are seen as a better option as long as not too tight.

In all circumstances, you should keep your dog away from other dogs as kennel cough is extremely contagious.

Can a dog get kennel cough more than once?

The simple answer is yes. Whilst each variation could be a little different, the virus itself is fundamentally the same. Like a human cold, you could have it one day, feel better, then get another within a few weeks or months.

Can my dog get vaccinated against kennel cough?

Due to the ease with which kennel cough can be transmitted many dog owners opt to vaccinate their pets. Doing so will build up a resistance that can be highly effective.

In many cases when transporting your dog abroad it will be necessary to undergo kennel cough vaccinations if your pet has not previously been treated.

Note that due to the range of bacteria which can cause the symptoms of kennel cough the vaccine given will need to be broad-spectrum, so that your dog can establish immunity to the most common disease-causing agents.

With there being so many variants of kennel cough, it may not be a guarantee that your dog is protected from it upon taking vaccines. However, to be safe it is advised that you seek the nasal vaccine for Bordetella bronchiseptica. This is the most common bacteria found in kennel cough and whilst the vaccine cannot promise full immunity. It will lessen the symptoms. Unfortunately. If your dog is already showing signs of kennel cough, this vaccine is not useful.

Some of the infections that cause kennel cough are covered by the jabs and boosters that dogs have when they are puppies.

When can my puppy get vaccinated against kennel cough?

The Bordetella nasal vaccine can be administered from when your puppy is 3 weeks old, and it will take around four days for it to become effective. It will then last about 12 months.

Can my dog stay in kennels with kennel cough?

If you are looking to send your dog to kennels, you may have to show proof of the Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine to be allowed to stay there. It would be advisable to check with your chosen kennels as to their policies.

Can I take my dog abroad if it has kennel cough?

Whilst kennel cough is very contagious, as long as you are up to date with the required vaccines, taking your dog abroad should not be a problem. You can check specific country requirements via official government websites or speak with your vet.

Can humans catch kennel cough?

One question that gets asked a lot is whether or not humans can catch kennel cough. The answer to this question really depends on a number of factors. Firstly, the disease-causing agent in question has a part to play. For example, studies suggest that the primary bacteria responsible for kennel cough – Bordetella bronchiseptica – can indeed infect humans.

That said, a secondary question is how strong your immune system is. Most healthy adults will quickly fight off the disease and will likely suffer no ill effects. It is only the more immuno-compromised individuals – such as babies or the elderly – who may experience some minor symptoms. Even in these cases, however, the immune system will normally knock the infection on its head in next to no time. If you have a concern, contact your GP for more guidance.


If you are looking to get your dog passport stamped and let them enjoy a family holiday with you, contact us today. We are industry leaders in pet travel and can help you have your animals safely transported to anywhere in the world. Get a free quote now and let your pet become part of your adventure abroad!