Kennel Cough in Dogs

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

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 this upper airway infection is ignored, it can lead to bigger problems. Knowing the other symptoms of kennel cough, how this viral or bacterial illness 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?

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, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and others.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs

Once any of the following symptoms are noticed—though typically it's the cough that gets the attention—most dog owners correctly seek veterinary care before other problems begin. Here's are the telltale symptoms of kennel cough.


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

Dry Coughing

Usually, the only symptom of kennel cough is the dog's dry cough. Some people describe the cough as harsh and hacking, or as a honking noise, but regardless of the description, it is hard to miss.

Gagging or Retching

Sometimes a dog with kennel cough will experience the dry cough, then go on to also gag as though it needs to vomit. Sometimes the dog will cough up a foamy mucus as a result of the gagging.

Decrease in Appetite

The persistent coughing can exhaust a dog and result in it losing its appetite. A dog won't stop eating because of kennel cough, but it may slow down while it's infected.

Nasal Discharge

The kennel cough may have caused a secondary infection in the dog, resulting in a nasal discharge that could also indicate post-nasal drip. Or, the nasal discharge may be an indication that the kennel cough is evolving into pneumonia.


The coughing and gagging action, along with an infection in the body, can make a dog with kennel cough experience low energy.

Causes of Kennel Cough

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. There are two ways a dog can be exposed to the pathogens::

  • Exposure to an infected dog: 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.
  • Exposure to infected surfaces or items: 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 has already 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.


Kennel cough may be treated with antibiotics, steroids, and cough suppressants (it's best to let your vet recommend the best brand for your dog). 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.

Prognosis for Dogs With Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is usually a mild infection that can sometimes resolve on its own in a few weeks, but medicine can hasten a full recovery. More advanced cases may turn into worse infections, but more often than not, dogs do well with treatment for kennel cough and go on to make full recoveries.

How to Prevent Kennel Cough

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 (illnesses transmitted between species) 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.
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    1. Kennel Cough or Tracheobronchitis in DogsVCA Hospitals.
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