Kennel Cough FAQ: Everything You Need to Know to Protect Your Dog

Dogs really are our best friends, and the last thing we want is for them to get sick. Unfortunately, kennel cough (also known as canine infectious respiratory disease) is a very common affliction that affects thousands of dogs every year. You can think of kennel cough like the common cold for dogs. It spreads very easily in crowded environments like kennels (hence the name) and it usually does not require treatment and goes away on its own. But we understand that “usually” isn’t good enough for your best friend. This article will help you understand everything you need to know about this disease and how it will affect your dog.

Kennel cough
Kennel cough in dogs is very common, like the common cold for humans.

How do dogs get kennel cough?

Let’s start with the basics: how does your dog get kennel cough? It is a bacterial canine respiratory tract infection that is technically called infectious tracheobronchitis and it is caused by a specific type of bacteria called bordetella bronchiseptica. For this reason, kennel cough is also often called Bordetella.

Dogs get infectious tracheobronchitis the same ways humans get bacterial infections: the spread of bacteria. Just like with humans, it’s not enough to simply keep your dog away from other dogs that have kennel cough because many dogs carry the bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria without actually exhibiting symptoms. Any time your dog is around other dogs, they run the risk of catching bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria and developing a cough.

So far, we’ve basically been treating kennel cough like any other bacterial infection, but that’s not actually the perfect comparison. While kennel cough is caused by bacteria, it also has a viral component. When your dog catches the bacteria that causes the cough, they also simultaneously catch a virus. The specific virus depends on the situation, but most dogs catch canine adenovirus, canine parainfluenza virus, or canine distemper virus. The virus, like the bacteria, will almost always dissipate on its own.

Adeno virus
The canine adenovirus is just one potential virus that typically comes with bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria.

How can I tell if my dog has kennel cough?

Knowing what kennel cough is and how it’s transmitted is important, but none of that will help you if you don’t even know that your dog has it. Any time your dog is exposed to other dogs, make sure you look for these symptoms of kennel cough in dogs:

  • A strong cough that has a “honk” sound, like a goose
  • Nasal discharge (runny nose)
  • Sneezing

These symptoms tend to develop as a result of inflammation of the respiratory tract. When your dog’s windpipe becomes inflamed, it can cause irritation that leads to coughing, and that irritation may prompt your dog’s body to create extra mucus to help soothe the irritation, which can lead to discharge and sneezing.

Have you caught your dog coughing and sneezing pretty much forever? Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean they’ve had a disease their entire lives and you just hadn’t noticed. For many breeds, something called a “reverse sneeze” is common and is in no way symptomatic. A reverse sneeze is when your dog makes several rapid inhalations and holds very still. Other types of dogs may sneeze while playing to indicate that they mean no harm (cute, right??)

Dogs playing
If your dog only sneezes while playing, odds are they don’t have an infection, they’re simply letting you know they won’t hurt you.

If you think your dog really does have kennel cough, look out for additional symptoms like acting lethargic or losing their appetite. These symptoms could also be a sign that your dog is developing a more serious condition. If you aren’t sure what’s going on with your dog, we recommend taking them to see a veterinarian to confirm what the issue is.

Should I avoid kenneling my dog?

This is entirely up to you. It’s true that kenneling your dog increases their risk for developing kennel cough, but sometimes a kennel for dogs is the best way to take care of your canine friend while you’re out of town. As we’ve mentioned, this infectious cough will typically take care of itself and won’t cause your dog much harm beyond some temporary discomfort, so if you want to continue to kennel your dog, don’t worry about being a bad pet owner. It is still a relatively safe option.

Just make sure you do your research and choose a responsible dogs kennel. There are many kennels that are severely overcrowded or have a history of mistreatment, and these should be avoided for sure. But safe, well-managed kennels are generally perfectly safe.

Can kennel cough in dogs be fatal?

In 99% of cases, kennel cough is relatively harmless and definitely not fatal. However, there are a few specific situations where this disease could cause more serious problems for your canine.

If your dog is particularly old or young, they may have a weakened immune system which opens them up to all kinds of infection and disease, which run rampant in kennels. Weakened immune systems also have a harder time fighting off infections, which can make minor issues like a cough into a much bigger problem. If your dog is very young or old or has a history of medical issues, kennel cough is still usually not fatal, but it may be more serious and you should see a veterinarian as soon as you notice the symptoms.

Big dog
As our dogs get older, they have a harder time fighting off simple infections.

Are there treatment options for kennel cough?

Although most dogs recover from this relatively benign infection on their own, there are treatment options out there. The virus aspect of the disease can’t be treated because our anti-viral technology is still in development for humans, let alone for dogs. The bacterial aspect, however, can be treated with a prescription for an antibiotic from your local veterinarian. This treatment may shorten your dog’s illness by a few days, and if your dog has a weakened immune system, it could help prevent the disease from turning into something more serious.

However, just because there is a treatment for kennel cough, that doesn’t mean you absolutely have to get it for your canine friend. Just like with humans and the common cold, it’s usually okay to let it run its course. Some simple at-home remedies may be able to make your dog more comfortable as they fight off the infection, like using a humidifier to soothe their respiratory irritation.

Dog and humidifier
If you want to help your dog feel better while they fight off their cough, try using a humidifier.

Additionally, if you want to help prevent your dog from catching this infection in the first place, you can get them the vaccine. The vaccine can be administered orally, by injection, or through a nasal mist, and is typically administered once a year. It’s important to note that the vaccine does not treat kennel cough if your dog already has it, and it isn’t 100% effective because there are so many combinations of bacteria and viruses that cause kennel cough. Still, it can reduce your dog’s risk, and that puts many pet owners’ minds at ease.

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