What Is Kennel Cough In Dogs

If you have a canine friend in your life, you have likely heard of kennel cough.

The hacking cough is known to frequent settings ranging from dog parks to grooming facilities, impacting social pups around the globe.

This infectious respiratory illness can not only cause coughing and sneezing in our pups, but it can lead to secondary pneumonia as well.

In this article we will discuss the details of kennel cough in dogs, and help you better understand how you can protect your dog from this common respiratory illness going forward.

Kennel Cough In Dogs

What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is a term that refers to an infectious respiratory illness that causes coughing in dogs.

Also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, these diseases typically target the trachea and bronchial tubes.

With so many dogs catching these illnesses when being housed with other dogs, the name kennel cough was formed.

In many cases, dogs will simply develop a harsh cough that lasts anywhere from 7-10 days.

Most dogs will not experience any change in behavior apart from their coughing, and typically go on to lead normal lives after their illness resolves.

However, stress and underlying illness is known to increase the risk of health complications, especially when a combination of illnesses are responsible for the kennel cough.

Due to this possibility, every case of kennel cough should be watched closely.

Is Kennel Cough A Broad Term?

Kennel cough is a blanket term used to describe any type of contagious respiratory disease that causes coughing.

Though many believe the term refers to one disease in particular, it actually refers to a list of viruses and bacteria that can cause a cough.

Some of the most common agents responsible for causing kennel cough in dogs include:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Adenovirus type 2
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Canine influenza virus
  • Mycoplasma canis 
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus
  • Canine reovirus

How Do Dogs Catch Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is extremely contagious, and can easily be passed from dog to dog through casual contact.

These illnesses are most often shed in the bodily secretions of an infected dog, sending these agents into the air with each cough they produce.

Healthy dogs will then inhale these agents, leading to an infection days later.

Not only can dogs inhale the contagious respiratory agents, but they can also come in contact with them on contaminated surfaces.

Some of the most common objects that transfer infectious disease include water bowls, food bowls, toys, and bedding.

In most situations, dogs will become infected with kennel cough when they are in a crowded setting with poor circulation.

This can include boarding facilities, animal shelters, dog breeders, grooming facilities, and even animal clinics.

Dogs are also known to be stressed in many of these environments, which has been proven to increase their chances of catching respiratory diseases.

Are Some Dogs More At Risk Of Catching Kennel Cough?

Unlike some other infectious diseases that impact our pups, kennel cough can target a dog of any age.

While it does not discriminate against age or immunity, it is most commonly seen in social dogs that interact with other animals often.

Dogs that frequent public settings are most at risk of developing this illness, or at least those that spend time around dogs that do.

Symptoms Of Kennel Cough In Dogs

Though a cough is the most obvious symptom present in kennel cough, our dogs can experience other respiratory symptoms as well.

These symptoms can range based on the certain agents responsible for their illness, as well as the overall health of the dog affected.

Some of the most common symptoms of kennel cough in dogs include:

  • Coughing, often a harsh or honking cough
  • Coughing when the throat is touched
  • Coughing after exercise
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Most cases of kennel cough are mild, and will not lead to any complications outside of mild respiratory symptoms.

However, kennel cough can progress into pneumonia in certain cases, so veterinary guidance is always suggested.

Complications Of Kennel Cough In Dogs

As we mentioned above, some dogs will develop secondary pneumonia when they are exposed to kennel cough.

This often occurs in dogs that are compromised in any way, ranging from being extremely young to experiencing stress.

These dogs will typically develop a fever, they will begin to feel lethargic, and they will often shy away from food.

Though any respiratory agent can cause pneumonia, mycoplasma and parainfluenza are known to be the most common culprits in secondary pneumonia cases.

It’s impossible to know which illness your dog has been exposed to without lab testing, so it’s important to monitor every coughing dog for any evidence of complications.

Diagnosing Kennel Cough In Dogs

Most veterinarians will diagnose kennel cough based on the patient’s history and their current symptoms.

Your vet will typically ask you about any possibility of exposure over the last 14 days, as well as what symptoms you are observing at home.

Based on their history and findings on physical exam, your vet can typically come to the diagnosis of kennel cough.

If your dog is experiencing any evidence of pneumonia, your vet will likely suggest performing chest x-rays to get an idea of what is occurring within the lungs.

If your vet sees evidence of pneumonia on their films, your dog’s diagnosis and treatment plan will become more involved.

If your vet would like to know the exact agent that is responsible for your dog’s kennel cough, they can send a nasal swab to the lab for PCR testing.

This is often performed if the owners are curious, or if they are trying to determine the cause of a break out in their area.

However, this is typically not necessary in treating simple cases of kennel cough.

Treating Kennel Cough In Dogs

Most cases of kennel cough will either resolve on their own, or with the help of cough suppressants until the illness resolves.

However, to prevent secondary infections from occurring, some vets will prescribe antibiotics in an effort to decrease the chance of complications.

Once a proper treatment plan is put into place, most infections will resolve within 10 days.

Treatment will vary if your dog has been diagnosed with pneumonia due to their respiratory illness.

Some dogs can be treated at home with the use of antibiotics and nebulization therapy, while others will need to stay in the hospital on oxygen support.

These dogs will also take much longer to recover, and may require follow up visits to ensure their health going forward.

How Long Will My Dog Be Contagious?

From the moment your dog is diagnosed with kennel cough, they should be kept away from other dogs for at least 14 days after their symptoms have resolved.

Some dogs with Bordetella bronchiseptica have been known to shed the virus up to 3 months after their initial infection, but this is known to be more rare.

When it comes to keeping other dogs safe, the two week quarantine after their illness has resolved is typically sufficient.

Preventing Kennel Cough In Dogs

A vaccination protocol based on your dog’s exposure risk is the best way to prevent kennel cough going forward.

The Bordetella vaccine is recommended for any dogs that frequent public settings, especially those that spend time around other furry friends.

Many vaccination programs now include the adenovirus and parainfluenza vaccines as well, which can aid in offering protection against many of the respiratory agents your dog will come in contact with.

If you have any questions on which vaccines are appropriate for your pup, we suggest speaking with your veterinarian.

They can offer you the best advice based on your dog’s specific situation.

Final Thoughts

Kennel cough is an irritating illness that can easily spread from dog to dog.

Regular vaccinations can help to decrease your dog’s risk of catching any respiratory disease, as well as limiting their interaction with unvaccinated dogs.

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