Kennel Cough in Dogs

dog with open mouth

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Kennel cough is a common problem that can affect dogs of all ages and breeds. The classic coughing that gives kennel cough its name may not seem like a big deal but if it's ignored, it can lead to bigger problems. Knowing the other symptoms of kennel cough, how the disease is treated, and what you can do to prevent your dog from getting it is beneficial for any dog owner to understand.

What Is Kennel Cough in Dogs?

Kennel cough's technical name is infectious tracheobronchitis (ITB) and it occurs when the upper airways of a dog become inflamed due to a viral and/or bacterial infection. The disease is actually caused by one or more types of viruses and/or bacteria, but due to the similar symptoms, all of these infections are typically referred to as kennel cough. Viruses and bacteria that can contribute to kennel cough include canine parainfluenza, canine adenovirus 2, canine distemper, Bordetella bronchiseptica and others.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs

Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs

  • Dry coughing
  • Gagging or retching
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Nasal discharge
  • Depression

Usually the only symptom of kennel cough that a dog has is a dry cough but sometimes it will also gag or retch as though it needs to vomit. Some people describe the cough as harsh or as a honking noise but regardless of the description, it is hard to miss. Once these symptoms are noticed, most dog owners correctly seek veterinary care before other problems begin. If left untreated, kennel cough can cause a decrease in appetite, nasal discharge may be seen, and a dog will act depressed due to not feeling well.

Causes of Kennel Cough in Dogs

While kennel cough is caused by an infection of a virus and/or bacteria, dogs have to first be exposed to these pathogens in order to be infected by them.

  • Exposure to an infected dog
  • Exposure to surfaces or items an infected dog was recently in contact with

Dogs can contract kennel cough from aerosolized particles if an infected dog is coughing nearby or if they come into contact with an infected dog. Often associated with a kennel environment, it can also occur anywhere dogs come in direct contact. Additionally, kennel cough can also be contracted if a dog plays with toys, drinks from a water bowl, eats from a food dish, or is exposed to other items and surfaces an infected dog contaminated.

Diagnosing Kennel Cough in Dogs

If you suspect your dog has kennel cough, you should have it examined by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will listen to your dog's lungs and perform a full physical examination to ensure it is healthy aside from the kennel cough. X-rays to examine the lungs may be recommended. Diagnosis is typically made after a history of exposure is discovered and the coughing is heard.

Treatment of Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel cough may be treated with antibiotics, steroids and cough suppressants. The dog should be quarantined from other dogs to avoid spreading the illness and the environment should be thoroughly cleaned to avoid reinfection. Severe cases where pneumonia has developed secondarily to the kennel cough will need to be hospitalized and receive more intensive care.

How to Prevent Kennel Cough in Dogs

It can be difficult to prevent kennel cough in dogs that are regularly around other dogs but there are still preventative measures you can take.

Vaccinations against key pathogens that cause kennel cough can help prevent the disease or decrease the severity of symptoms. Canine adenovirus 2 (CAV2), canine distemper (CDV), and sometimes canine parainfluenza (CPiV) vaccines are even considered to be core vaccines with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). This means that most dogs that receive their regular vaccines already have some protection against kennel cough.

Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccines are also available with or without CPiV but are considered non-core vaccinations. Because of this, not all dogs will routinely receive this vaccination, but if you and your veterinarian are concerned about kennel cough, it can help prevent the illness.

Aside from vaccinations, keeping your dog away from dogs that may be coughing and not allowing a contaminated dog to share toys or dishes with your dog can help decrease the likelihood of your dog contracting kennel cough.

Is Kennel Cough Contagious to Humans?

While rare, kennel cough can be spread to humans. Immunocompromised individuals are at risk for contracting this potentially zoonotic disease and should be especially cautious when exposed to contaminated dogs.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.