The term kennel cough refers to an infection affecting the respiratory tract of dogs. This is a highly infectious condition. It can be passed indirectly between dogs in the air or on surfaces contaminated with kennel cough nosodes (infectious secretions).

Kennel cough is more correctly called by its technical name, infectious tracheobronchitis. But the latter is a bit of a mouthful so the more popular term, kennel cough, is popularly used instead.

The reason the condition acquired this moniker is that the infection can run rife through groups of dogs all sharing the same airspace. As the name suggests, the main symptom is coughing, of which a hacking cough is characteristic. No one bacteria or virus holds a monopoly on causing the symptoms of kennel cough. Indeed, just the common cold in people can be caused by different bugs, so can kennel cough.

However, some bugs top the charts when it comes to infectious coughing. The top two being Bordetella bronchiseptica and Parainfluenza virus.

Read on to learn more about how kennel cough can affect your dog!

Dog Sounds Funny? It Could be Kennel Cough

Any dog that spends time around groups of other dogs could potentially pick up kennel cough. If your dog goes to doggy daycare or boarding kennels or plays in the dog park and then starts coughing, think “Could it be kennel cough?”

The cough is often so harsh it appears the dog is choking. Indeed, a common reason pet parents contact their veterinarian is they believe the dog has something stuck in their throat.

The smoking gun that the choking is actually coughing is if the dog is not vaccinated against Bordetella and they regularly mix with other dogs.

Bordetella in Dogs! What is it?

So what is Bordetella?

Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacterium, which was first isolated by a scientist called Julebs Bordet. The ‘bronchi’ part refers to the airways, whilst ‘septica’ means infected: Thus the whole name means a bacterium which causes infection of the airways. So it is a bacterial infection.

What Causes Bordetella in Dogs?

Canine infectious tracheobronchitis is most commonly caused by Bordetella. In warm moist conditions, such as droplets sneezed from an infected dog’s nose, this bacteria can survive for several days.

Thus, dogs become infected either by breathing in droplets of infected air (hence, ‘kennel cough as dogs often share the same airspace in a boarding kennel), by eating from infected bowls, or direct contact with a coughing dog.

The incubation period between exposure and showing kennel cough symptoms ranges from three days to two weeks. Happily, kennel cough is not passed from dogs to people. There is much debate about whether dogs can pass the infection to cats, but if this happens it is an unusual occurrence.

Infectious agents that cause symptoms of kennel cough include:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Canine adenovirus
  • Canine herpes virus
  • Canine corona virus
  • Canine influenza virus

Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel cough is an infection of the respiratory tract. It can cause soreness and inflammation along the whole length of the respiratory tract from the nose to the lungs.

An especially notable feature is that it inflames the lining of the windpipe. This means putting pressure on the trachea, such as pulling on a collar, triggers episodes of coughing. Even a sudden temperature change, going from a warm room out into cold air, can irritate the lining of the windpipe and cause coughing.

Another of the clinical signs includes dogs that develop a runny nose and have a nasal discharge. This can be hard to spot as the dog usually licks it away.

Many dogs feel under the weather when suffering from kennel cough. As you’ll appreciate when you have flu or even a heavy cold, it can be difficult to carry on as normal. The implication for a dog is that they might not be interested in walks and prefer to stay home and sleep.

As previously mentioned, some dogs cough so hard they make themselves sick. Others can be feverish and will go off their food. However, all of these are general signs, so never assume this is the problem and always see a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

Is Your Dog Wheezing? What does Kennel Cough Sound Like?

If your dog is wheezing, this may well be a sign of a different condition such as canine asthma. The latter can be serious so don’t delay and seek an urgent appointment with a veterinarian.

The cough linked to infectious tracheobronchitis is described as a dry hacking cough. Indeed, in the most severe cases, it is likened to the sound of a goose honking. Some dogs start coughing and find it hard to stop, which then causes them to retch.

The cough can be alarming, especially if you aren’t sure of what’s causing it, hence the assumption many people make that the dog is choking.

Is Dog Reverse Sneezing Caused by Kennel Cough?

Yes and no.

Reverse sneezing is a separate condition in its own right. This is characterized by the dog making choking or heavy breathing sounds.

Reverse sneezing is usually caused by the dog’s anatomy and an overly long soft palate. Therefore, most often it is not related to kennel cough.

However, if the back of the dog’s throat is swollen because of infection, this narrows the airway. This can induce a form of reverse sneezing, which disappears once the dog’s kennel cough resolves.

Kennel Cough Treatment! Here’s What Your Vet will Do

Not all cases of kennel cough require treatment. If the veterinarian suspects a viral infection and the dog is otherwise well and still eating, they may not give antibiotics. However, if the cough keeps the dog awake at night, then the vet may prescribe cough suppressants at night to allow the dog to rest and recover their strength.

But, if the dog is feverish, off their food, or generally giving cause for concern, the vet may suggest a course of antibiotics. This is to fight any secondary infections which have taken advantage of the dog’s weakened state. This is important as a simple case of kennel cough can sometimes turn into nasty pneumonia.

An important consideration is isolating the dog. This is to avoid passing the infection onto others. You’ll also need to wash your hands thoroughly before touching other dogs, and ideally wear a change of clothing.

How long does Kennel Cough Last?

How long kennel cough lasts depends on which bug is causing it. Bordetella is a bacteria and can be killed by antibiotics. Therefore, in this case, a course of antibiotics usually clears up the problem with a few days.

However, antibiotics don’t kill viruses. So if the dog’s kennel cough is due to parainfluenza virus or herpes virus, then it’s up to the dog’s immune system to get rid of the infection. This can take weeks, sometimes even up to four weeks can be normal before a cough eventually goes.

An average length of time for kennel cough to hang around is two to four weeks. So batten down the hatches and be prepared to keep your dog away from doggy daycare for quite some time. Remember, your coughing dog could infect others, so the responsible thing is to keep them home.

Prevention is Key! Kennel Cough Vaccine

Happily, if your dog is elderly or in an at-risk group, a kennel cough vaccine available.

This is a slightly unusual vaccine in that it’s not an injectable vaccine. Instead, it consists of drops down the nose – otherwise known as an intranasal vaccine. The idea is that the vaccine provides local immunity in the respiratory system.

The vaccine protects for one year and needs to be repeated to give ongoing protection. It takes around two weeks from giving the vaccine to the dog being protected. So plan ahead if your dog is going into kennels.

However, be aware that the kennel cough vaccine doesn’t protect against every single infectious cause of a cough. Just as the flu vaccine in people protects against specific strains of virus, so the kennel cough vaccine only protects against the most common bacteria causing infectious coughs.

7 Facts You Need to Know About this Transmissible Disease

There are many misunderstandings about kennel cough. Here are the facts in a nutshell:

  •  Kennel cough in dogs is rarely dangerous when the dog is otherwise healthy. Most will make a full recovery, often without treatment
  • It is very young puppies, elderly dogs, or those with another health problem that are at greatest risk of complications.
  • Kennel cough is one of the most common causes of a cough in dogs.
  • The bugs causing canine kennel cough can survive in the environment. This means dogs don’t need direct contact with each other to pick up the infection.
  • Look for a boarding kennels that asks for their visitors to have the kennel cough vaccine. This is a sign they have the health of all their guests on their mind.
  • Infected dogs pose a risk to other dogs until they have stopped coughing
  • The kennel cough vaccine is usually not given at the same time as other vaccines. A return trip to the vet will be necessary.