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A Guide To Kennel Cough in Dogs

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039


What is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is the common name given to ‘canine infectious tracheobronchitis’ – an upper respiratory tract infection that is caused a number of different viruses and bacteria, often in combination. It is highly infectious and occurs most commonly when groups of dogs come together, such as a kennel environment, day-care or training classes.  It causes a hacking cough that can sometimes sound like they are choking.  Most dogs will recover within a 1-3 weeks, but it can occasionally be more serious for some dogs.

What causes kennel cough in dogs?

There are a wide range of viruses and bacteria that cause kennel cough, and often they can occur in combination, most commonly with parainfluenza or adenovirus type 2 together with the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica (this is why some people refer to kennel cough as Bordetella).

What are the symptoms of kennel cough in dogs?

Kennel cough causes a characteristic dry, hacking cough that can sound like they have something stuck in their throat and they are choking. Otherwise, dogs tend to be quite well in themselves, with a good appetite. Occasionally dogs can suffer from some other symptoms, including a running nose, sneezing or discharge from the eye(s).

How is kennel cough in dogs diagnosed?

There is no single test for kennel cough. It is usually diagnosed by the vet based on the characteristic cough, together with a history of possible exposure. Usually no tests are necessary, and most cases recover on their own in 1-3 weeks. Occasionally the cough can linger for 6 weeks or so.

It is important to try and keep your dog away from other dogs whilst they are coughing, as it is highly infectious and so you risk passing the infection on to other dogs.

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How is kennel cough in dogs treated?

Most cases get better within 1-3 weeks without the need for any treatment. Your vet may prescribe some anti-inflammatories if the cough is quite severe, to help reduce inflammation in the airways. Antibiotics are not usually necessary, although they may be prescribed for some cases. To help your dog recover, ensure your home is well ventilated and try to avoid air fresheners and cleaning sprays that may further aggravate the airways. It is also best to walk your dog using a harness rather than a collar, to avoid putting pressure on their neck, as this can trigger a coughing episode.

Some dogs may be more severely affected, particularly young puppies, elderly dogs and those with underlying health issues. Your vet will discuss with you the most appropriate treatment for these cases.

Should I vaccinate my dog against kennel cough?

The vaccinations given to puppies and at the annual booster include protection against some of the viruses that cause kennel cough, such as parainfluenza, adenovirus type 2 and canine distemper.

There is also a specific kennel cough vaccine available that is sprayed up the nose. This provides some protection against Bordetella bronchiseptica, although there are a number of strains so protection is not full or guaranteed, although it should at least lessen the symptoms. Most kennels require dogs to have been vaccinated against kennel cough prior to boarding.

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