Pet Care Blog

Kennel Cough in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & How To Save On Costs

Aliyah Diamond
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
dog at vet with kennel cough

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious respiratory disease or infectious tracheobronchitis, is an airborne pathogen that causes inflammation of the upper respiratory organs and the throat.

Kennel cough in dogs is usually not fatal but the symptoms can make the infected pup quite miserable while it lasts. Most dogs recover from kennel cough within three to four weeks with proper diagnosis and treatment from their veterinarian. However, in dogs with a compromised immune system, as well as senior pets and puppies, it can take up to six weeks for a complete recovery.

Kennel Cough Symptoms in Dogs

Symptoms of kennel cough usually begin from 2 to 14 days after exposure. Some pups only experience mild symptoms like:

  • Occasional coughs
  • Sneezing
  • Gagging
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Coughing up white foam
  • ‘Goose honk’ cough

This characteristic dry “honking” cough might look as though the pup is trying to hack or cough something up, and can be followed by a spit of mucus or phlegm. Oftentimes, these symptoms will appear worse immediately following a period of increased excitement or exercising.

In most cases, symptoms of the canine infectious respiratory disease normally last about ten days, after which gradual improvement follows. However, in immunocompromised dogs, unvaccinated animals, younger puppies, and geriatric pets, the condition can develop with more severe symptoms like:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever
  • Severe congestion
  • Constant coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Pneumonia
  • Death

How Is Kennel Cough Transmitted?

Many pups catch the disease when they are in dog kennels, boarding facilities or shelters, which is why it's known as kennel cough. Kennel cough in dogs is highly contagious and can be transmitted through several different routes:

  • Direct contact with infected pups. Playing or just breathing the same air as an infected animal can result in your furry friend developing the condition. Places where a number of dogs are circulating or kept need to take extra precautionary measures to prevent the transmission. Such facilities include:

    • Boarding facilities
    • Daycare facilities
    • Dog grooming salons
    • Dog spas
    • Veterinary hospitals
    • Animal shelters
    • Dog parks
    • Kennels
  • Contact with contaminated people or objects. Bacteria can survive on surfaces for up to 48 hours, ready to be transmitted to another host. People can also be a source of transmission if they don’t disinfect their clothing and hands between pets. The disease can also be transmitted through objects like sticks or toys, beds, as well as food and water dishes.

  • Through the air. As we mentioned earlier, kennel cough is an airborne disease, which means it’s primarily spread through the air. When an infected pup barks, sneezes, or coughs, they release microscopic particles of the virus into the air the same way a person with a cold or flu could cough or sneeze and pass their infection to the people around them. These contaminants (viruses and bacteria) can remain in the air and live for longer periods of time, sometimes even for weeks.

Kennel Cough Causes

The two most common infectious agents for kennel cough in dogs are:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacterial cause of this disease. When this bacterium is acting alone, symptoms can last up to 10 days. However, it can also work together with the parainfluenza virus, in which case symptoms may last up to three weeks. This bacteria can be shed from an infected dog up to 14 weeks after symptoms have resolved.

  • Parainfluenza virus, on the other hand, is the most common viral cause of kennel cough in dogs. When acting alone, symptoms may last 5-6 days or less.

Other infectious agents that cause kennel cough in dogs include:

  • Mycoplasma
  • Canine adenovirus 2 (CAV2)
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus

Kennel Cough Diagnosis

If your dog is showing any of the above-listed symptoms and has recently been in contact with other pups, be sure to make an appointment with a veterinarian for a check-up. The veterinarian will take a history of your pet and ask if it has been in contact with other dogs, how long it has had symptoms, as well as how severe these symptoms are. They will also perform a physical examination which involves listening to the lungs and evaluating the coughing.

Bacterial culture and viral isolation are also available in order to determine what exactly is causing them to be sick. However, such tests are usually conducted upon request by the pet parent since the symptoms are indicative of the condition.

In some cases, lab work and X-rays are needed in order to determine how sick your dog is specifically to see if the disease has resulted in pneumonia. In other cases, these additional medical procedures are necessary to ensure that the illness isn’t caused by another disease, like collapsing trachea, or something more serious like heart disease, heartworm disease, or canine influenza.

Pro Tip: Dog insurance can reimburse you up to 90% of veterinary costs. But it won't cover pre-existing conditions, so it's best to enroll sooner rather than later.

Kennel Cough Treatment

If your four-legged companion is diagnosed with kennel cough, the treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms.

Medications As we mentioned before, kennel cough is often self-limiting, which means that it may go away on its own. However, if you suspect that your pet has the disease, a veterinarian should determine what is the best treatment protocol for your dog.

Supportive treatments are often needed, such as:

  • Cough suppressants in case of more severe coughing
  • Steroids to help with the inflammation
  • Antibiotics such as Clavamox and Baytril to help treat secondary bacterial infections.

At-Home Care Pups with kennel cough need to be isolated for at least 14 days, or even longer in case of a more severe infection from other dogs.

In mild cases of kennel cough in dogs, pet parents can use a humidifier or place the pup in a shower-steamed bathroom several times a day to provide additional relief. Instead of a collar, they should consider using a harness while the pup is exhibiting symptoms, as a collar can irritate the throat and worsen the coughing. When it comes to food, priority should be given to canned foods and softened kibble.

In more severe cases of kennel cough, aerosol therapy and bronchodilators may be prescribed to expand the airways for easier breathing. Severe cases usually require a weekly vet appointment until the pet is considered stable. Be sure to report any worsening or continuing symptoms to your veterinarian.

Hospitalization Hospitalization might be required in animals who develop pneumonia. Coupage, which is a type of physical therapy performed by striking the chest with cupped hands, can be prescribed to break up and expel congestion in the lungs. Some patients may require oxygen therapy, which is the act of supplementing the air the dog breathes with extra oxygen. It can be done either in a specialized cage that delivers oxygen or through a nasal tube. This level of intervention is less common and can likely be avoided by bringing your pet to the veterinarian upon first signs of symptoms such as the coughing or sneezing mentioned earlier.

Kennel Cough Treatment Cost

In general, the kennel cough treatment cost is related to the veterinary examination and medications prescribed. Depending on the dog’s size and the medications needed, it usually ranges from $75 - $200.

The cost of X-rays and lab work, if required, could be an extra $200 - $500, depending on the tests. Cough medicine (antitussives) might cost from $30 to $50 for a course of treatment.

If pneumonia develops or the pup needs to be hospitalized, the costs will increase substantially, depending on the treatments administered and the length of the stay. However, these costs can be significantly reduced if your furry pal has pet insurance.

Kennel Cough Recovery

We’ve already mentioned that dogs usually recover from the disease within 3-4 weeks and, for uncomplicated infections, the prognosis is excellent. However, young pups, senior pets, and immunocompromised dogs might need up to six weeks to recover.

Kennel cough is contagious for up to 14 weeks after the symptoms are gone, so it’s very important to keep minimal contact between your pup and other dogs. If your four-legged companion has a cough, you should stop the usual socialization activities like doggy playdates and training until a veterinarian says it’s okay to resume them.

If your furry friend isn’t improving with prescribed therapy and supportive care, make sure he or she is re-examined by a vet.

dog at a vet taking infusion (Image Source: Pexels)

Kennel Cough Prevention

What can pet parents do to prevent kennel cough?

  • Follow your vet’s vaccination recommendations. Vaccination is highly recommended for pets that are in frequent contact with other pups ( dog parks, grooming, daycare, training, or boarding).

  • Annual vaccination can help prevent or alleviate the symptoms in case your pup comes in contact with an infectious agent. The vaccines that help prevent kennel cough include vaccinations against Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza virus, feline distemper, distemper virus for dogs, adenovirus type 2, and influenza virus. Vaccines don’t totally prevent infection but they will significantly alleviate your dog’s symptoms if they do contract the disease. It’s recommended to allow a week after vaccination before you let your dog come in contact with other pups which ensures the vaccine will best be able to protect your dog.

  • It should be noted that some pets may experience mild side effects after having the vaccine. These side effects include sneezing, coughing, as well as discharge from the nose or eyes. In most cases, the side effects aren’t serious and go away after 1-3 days.

  • Choose a kennel, dog boarding, dog daycare, or other animal care facility carefully. It is always best if you can get a recommendation from someone you trust. You should also check some online reviews before making a decision. Ask for a tour of the facility so that you can make sure it looks clean and that it is sanitized on a regular basis. In addition, check if the facility has health and vaccination requirements for the pets it accepts. Many dog care facilities may require vaccination against kennel cough from all the pets that stay there, which would decrease the likelihood that your dog could get infected while visiting one of these places

What can animal care facilities do to prevent the disease?

  • If one dog is showing signs of the disease but others in the facility are not, the infected animal should be isolated. Make sure that the area where the infected pet is kept in is well ventilated, and that his water and food bowls and bedding are disinfected with bleach on a regular basis. Ensure that the sick pet is examined by a vet in order to ensure the animal receives proper treatment and prevent further illness.

Main Takeaways

  • Kennel cough is a very contagious air-bourne disease caused by viruses or bacterial infection. It’s commonly transmitted to other dogs through sharing an air-space, as an infected dog can spread the disease by sneezing and coughing and a healthy dog breathing in the pathogen. Once a pup gets in direct contact with an infected animal, or contacts a contaminated surface, they can get kennel cough.

  • If you see symptoms of kennel cough, make sure to bring your dog to the vet to have them checked out and treated as necessary right away. Kennel cough might turn into something more serious such as pneumonia if it’s not attended to by a vet in a timely manner. Your vet might prescribe cough suppressants, antibiotics and may also recommend giving a vaccine.

  • Having pet insurance will help reimburse you for the cost of medical treatments needed to treat your dog's kennel cough. It’s important that you enroll in pet insurance before any injuries or illnesses arise in your four-legged companion (otherwise it will be labelled as a “pre-existing condition” and won’t be covered by the insurance policy). Once enrolled in a pet insurance plan, you’ll get reimbursed up to 90% of your dog’s medical bills for any unexpected injury or illness...

  • To prevent your furry friend from getting the disease, make sure to choose an animal care facility that requires proof of vaccination before it agrees to take your pup in, speak with your veterinarian about your dog’s lifestyle and places he or she goes, and make sure to follow your vet’s recommendation about preventative care such as vaccines.

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Aliyah Diamond

Aliyah Diamond
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

Aliyah Diamond has more than ten years of experience in animal hospitals - working with dozens of species from dogs and cats, to elephants and snow leopards. Her lifelong passion for helping animals currently has her earning her doctorate of veterinary medicine at Cornell University and helping Pawlicy Advisor educate pet parents.

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