Does your dog have a constant dry, hacking cough? Does he gag or retch at the end of a coughing spell? There’s a good chance he could be suffering from kennel cough.
What is Kennel Cough?
Kennel cough, or canine tracheobronchitis, is a respiratory illness that can be spread through nasal and oral fluids. Your dog can also contract kennel cough if he inhales the virus or bacteria causing the illness. Because kennel cough can be spread through the air, it is a highly infectious disease, like the influenza virus that infects humans. Kennel cough is not likely spread to cats and humans. The disease can affect dogs of any breed or age. For the most part, kennel cough resolves on its own, typically within 1-3 weeks.
For more information about kennel cough and what it sounds like, watch this video:
Causes and Risk Factors
Kennel cough can be caused by many infectious agents. They include canine adenovirus 2 (CAV 2), canine respiratory coronavirus, parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and mycoplasma. The most common virus that causes kennel cough is parainfluenza. Meanwhile, the bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria that causes kennel cough.
Your dog is at risk of contracting kennel cough if he:
- Was recently rescued from a shelter
- Is housed in a boarding facility or kenneled for long periods of time
- Is malnourished
- Attends doggy daycare
- Plays at dog parks
- Has a weakened immune system
- Visits pet shops, groomers, or any other places with a large population of dogs
Other risks factors include being exposed to:
- Extreme cold
- Pollution (i.e. dust, aerosols, cigarette smoke, etc.)
- Stress (i.e. from prolonged stay at kennels)
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of kennel cough can resemble the symptoms of more serious illnesses such as heart disease, heartworm disease, or canine influenza. This is why it’s very important for you to take your dog to the vet to rule out any of these illnesses.
The symptoms of kennel cough typically include:
- Hacking or “honking” cough
- Frequent sneezing
- Nasal discharge
- Gagging or retching
- Hoarse barking
- Sensitivity to pressure in the throat (from leash and/or collar)
Dogs with this mild form are generally able to carry on like normal. Their appetites aren’t affected, and neither are their activity levels.
If kennel cough progresses to a more serious infection such as pneumonia–which is fairly rare–your dog may experience:
- Fever (rectal temperature greater than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Loss of appetite
- Non-stop, productive cough (phlegm)
- Rapid breathing
A medical professional such as your dog’s veterinarian should be the one to diagnose kennel cough. An unskilled individual can provide the wrong diagnosis, which could lead to the wrong treatment. Thus, a new problem can arise.
A vet may run some tests (i.e. bacteria cultures, blood tests, X-rays) to differentiate kennel cough from other respiratory illnesses or certain infections that affect the respiratory tract.
There are several ways you can prevent your dog from becoming infected with kennel cough. These methods aren’t fool-proof, but they’ll lower the risk of your dog contracting the disease.
Most cases of kennel cough are self-limiting, which means that they will resolve on their own over time. But for preventative measures, you may still want to vaccinate your dog against kennel cough. Especially if he has a weakened immune system or is frequently boarded at kennels. Many vaccines for the Bordetella bacteria, a common cause of kennel cough are available.
Unfortunately, multiple strains of the bacteria exist. According to Dana Scott, founder of Dog Naturally Magazine, there are at least forty agents that cause Bordetella. But the vaccine contains only a couple of these agents. This means that if your dog gets the vaccine, it won’t fully protect him from contracting kennel cough.
But isn’t some protection better than no protection? This isn’t always the case because over-vaccination really is a thing and it can do more harm to your dog and other dogs around him. Why? Because one, we really don’t know what’s contained in these vaccines and two, dogs vaccinated for kennel cough can shed that disease for up to 7 weeks and parainfluenza for a week. This can infect other dogs your pooch comes in contact with.
“I generally do not recommend kennel cough vaccines unless dogs are staying in a boarding facility that requires them (and even then I don’t truly recommend vaccination — instead, I recommend finding a facility that doesn’t require them).” -Dr. Eric Barchas
But if you feel that you absolutely must vaccinate your dog against kennel cough, you should follow these guidelines:
- Ask your vet to administer the intranasal (via the nose) form of the vaccine and not the injection.
- Give the vaccine at least 2 weeks before your dog has contact with other dogs.
- Make sure your dog is at least 3 weeks of age.
One plus of getting your dog vaccinated against kennel cough is that it will likely decrease the severity of the symptoms in case your dog does contract it.
You can get your dog vaccinated for canine adenovirus-2 and parainfluenza as well. Once given, the vaccine can be given every 3 years for continuous prevention.
Herbs to Boost Immunity
Dogs with a strong immune system are at lower risk of getting kennel cough. And if they do contract the disease, their symptoms are typically mild and go away pretty quickly. You can give your dog immune-boosting herbs like echinacea or astragalus. Be sure to check with your vet before giving any type of herb to your dog.
Your dog should be on a natural, balanced, and high-quality diet. His food should be free of preservatives and by-products. If you don’t already, make sure your pooch is getting plenty of exercise. Try your best to limit your dog’s exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke and chemicals. These substances can weaken your dog’s mucus lining that protects his respiratory tract from certain illnesses.
Better Hygienic Practices
While it’s always good to properly clean and disinfect your dog’s kennel, bowls, and dishes, etc., I’m mainly talking about taking your dog to pet care facilities (i.e. kennel, rescue, shelter, grooming salon, vet clinic, pet shop, etc.) that follow strict sanitation and disinfection guidelines. Because kennel cough is primarily spread through the air, it is optimal for a pet care facility to have an air-purification system in place to kill the specific bacteria and viruses in the air that infect pets. Air purifiers can also remove dust and dander from the air. According to PetAirapy, bacteria can live on dust particles and dander for quite a while.
As I mentioned earlier, kennel cough typically goes away on its own. It’s much like the common cold in humans. But there are some things you can do to treat the symptoms and make your canine companion more comfortable.
You can use a humidifier to keep your dog’s airways open and moist. The moisture can help your dog breathe more easily and alleviate his symptoms. Alternatively, you can turn on the shower. The steam from the shower can open up the bronchial passages as well.
Use a harness instead of a collar. A collar can irritate your dog’s sensitive throat and make coughing spells worse.
Feed your pooch softened kibble or canned food to prevent further irritation to the throat.
Making sure your dog is getting essential vitamins is important for helping his body fight the illness. Vitamin C is great for fighting viruses. It’s why they tell us humans to drink lots of orange juice as it’s packed with Vitamin C! Vitamin E is also good, as it helps support the immune system, which needs to be as strong as possible to fight against kennel cough successfully.
Give your pooch manuka honey to soothe your dog’s throat and alleviate his cough. Manuka honey is antiviral and antibacterial as well.
To help relax your pup and ease his breathing, you can drop some essential oils in a diffuser. Lavender, tea tree oil, and eucalyptus are great because they have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Chamomile can add a calming effect. Also, playing some relaxing music might help sooth your sick pet.
Kennel cough doesn’t typically require medication. Your vet may prescribe a cough suppressant and/or antibiotics if the symptoms are more severe or the illness lasts longer than normal.
Don’t give your dog a cough suppressant without first talking to your vet. It’s not that cough suppressants aren’t safe for your dog, it’s just that he needs to cough as it’s his body’s way of fighting the illness. Your vet can determine if your dog’s cough is severe enough to give him a cough suppressant, which ultimately might mean more intensive treatment is needed.
If your poor pooch hasn’t gotten better and has been experiencing severe symptoms such as lethargy or difficulty breathing, he may need further treatment. Your dog has likely contracted pneumonia while his body was trying to fight kennel cough. You should take him to an animal hospital or emergency clinic. If your dog is having trouble breathing, he’ll get oxygen therapy. Medical professionals may also perform coupage, which is the clapping of hands on the sides of the chest to break up any congestion in the lungs.
Kennel cough is, for the most part, a relatively mild illness that affects canines. You don’t have to do much to help your dog recover. Just keep a close eye on him, especially if he’s immuno-compromised, a young puppy, or a senior dog. A trip to the vet wouldn’t hurt either, as a mild illness can turn into something serious, although this is rare. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s still better to be safe than sorry.
About the Author
Britney Sanders is a dog blogger who aims to help make the lives of pet parents easier through her articles about dog health, products, and training tips. She is the mother of two rambunctious boys and two crazy furbabies. She is married to a jokester who keeps her sane when she is not blogging.