Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory tract. While rarely lethal, it can cause complications in puppies and in dogs with compromised immune systems.
Kennel cough is a complex infection with several viral and bacterial causes. It is typically contracted in places where lots of dogs congregate, like kennels (hence the name), because it is highly contagious. All dog owners should be aware of the signs, risks, and preventatives to help reduce the spread of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Kennel Cough
Kennel cough causes a distinctive dry, hacking cough that sounds like a goose honking. However, the cough can sometimes be productive instead of dry, and you may notice your dog coughing up secretions or gagging on them. The cough can be triggered by excitement, pressure on the neck (i.e. pulling on a collar), or activity. Some owners mistake the cough for something stuck in their dog’s throat.
There may also be other signs, such as the following:
- Nasal discharge
- Decreased appetite
- Difficulty breathing
How Did My Dog Get Kennel Cough?
Dogs contract kennel cough from exposure to infected dogs or contaminated objects. There are several viral and bacterial agents responsible for kennel cough, including:
- Canine parainfluenza virus
- Canine adenovirus 2
- Canine influenza virus
- Bordetella bronchiseptica
- Mycoplasma species
When dogs cough, infectious droplets spread through the air, infecting nearby dogs. Contaminated objects like food and water bowls, toys, bedding, and clothing can also spread the disease through direct contact. Exposure to the disease commonly occurs in places where dogs congregate, like boarding facilities, doggie daycares, dog parks, and grooming salons.
Diagnosing Kennel Cough in Dogs
Veterinarians diagnose kennel cough in dogs based on clinical signs, like coughing, and a history of recent exposure to other dogs. There are no laboratory tests to specifically confirm kennel cough. Veterinarians may sometimes recommend additional tests such as blood work and chest x-rays to rule out other, more serious conditions and secondary complications such as pneumonia and bronchopneumonia, if deemed appropriate for your pet’s condition.
Treating Your Dog for Kennel Cough
Luckily, most dogs recover from kennel cough on their own with mild supportive care. Depending on your dog’s condition, your veterinarian may recommend cough suppressants, along with increasing humidity in your dog’s environment. Antibiotics are usually not required for uncomplicated infections.
Complicated cases of kennel cough, however, can require more advanced care. Antibiotics may be administered, and dogs with pneumonia could require hospitalization in an isolation ward. Fluids, oxygen, and inhalation therapies may also be given for more severe cases.
Is There a Cure for Kennel Cough?
Most cases of kennel cough resolve on their own within 10 to 20 days. There is no single cure for kennel cough, as it is typically caused by a combination of viral and bacterial agents, but some medications may be prescribed, depending on the case, to keep your dog comfortable and reduce inflammation in the airways.
Is Kennel Cough Contagious for Humans or Other Pets?
Kennel cough is highly contagious among dogs. If your dog has kennel cough, try to keep him completely separated from other dogs, both in the household and out in public, and isolate his food and water bowls, bedding, and toys as well. Wash your hands and clothes immediately after handling your dog or his belongings.
Kennel cough and its triggers are not usually contagious for humans, but there is one exception: bordetella bronchiseptica can be transmitted from dogs to immunocompromised people. However, this is extremely rare. Talk to your veterinarian and your physician if you or a family member have a compromised immune system; dogs suspected to have a case of kennel cough should be isolated from compromised people until the infection has cleared.
Kennel cough can be contagious to certain other household pets, like cats. However, just like transmission to humans, this is highly unlikely. The most susceptible would be very young kittens and cats with severely compromised immune systems. If you suspect your dog could have kennel cough, isolate him from at-risk kittens and cats.
What Is the Cost for Treating Kennel Cough?
The cost for treating uncomplicated cases of kennel cough tends to be low, as hospitalization and antibiotics are typically not required. You’ll probably just have to pay the cost for a typical veterinary visit.
However, complicated cases can get pricey, as hospitalization, supportive therapies and/or medication, and additional diagnostic testing will add to the bill. The costs vary depending on your individual veterinary care provider as well as your location (bigger cities have higher costs of living across the board, and that includes veterinary care).
Recovery and Management of Kennel Cough
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind while your dog recovers from kennel cough is to keep him isolated from other dogs. This is especially important to remember around unvaccinated or immunocompromised dogs, as the disease can have more serious consequences for these animals. Remember that you can spread infection via your hands and clothing, so take care not to introduce the pathogens accidentally on your person.
Most dogs recover from kennel cough on their own within 10 to 20 days. During this time, reduce your dog’s activities to avoid coughing episodes, and disinfect all the items your dog is in regular contact with using a solution of bleach diluted in water (1:32).
Preventing Kennel Cough
Kennel cough is not always avoidable. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of contracting the disease:
- If you take your dog to a groomer, kennel, daycare, or obedience school, make sure the facility requires vaccinations for all dogs that enter the premises, even if your dog is vaccinated for kennel cough. This will further reduce the chances of your dog getting kennel cough, since no vaccine is 100% effective.
- Keep unvaccinated dogs away from places where dogs congregate, like kennels, doggie daycares, and dog parks, and away from dogs with known infections.
Is There a Vaccine for Kennel Cough?
Yes. Most kennels require the bordetella vaccine, which is often referred to as the kennel cough vaccine. Vaccines are also available for other viruses that cause kennel cough, including parainfluenza virus and adenovirus 2. Talk to your veterinarian about whether the kennel cough vaccine is appropriate for your dog, and if so, which vaccine is most effective in your geographical area.
Like all vaccines, kennel cough vaccines are not 100% effective, so it’s good to take other precautions as well, like relying on responsible groomers and kennels that require all dogs to be vaccinated.
Kennel cough is highly contagious, and although it’s rarely lethal, it’s very uncomfortable for dogs, and can be dangerous for puppies or dogs with compromised immune systems. Vaccines and preventative measures can greatly reduce the risk of infection, so speak to your veterinarian about a suitable preventative plan for your dog.