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Many dogs get kennel cough during their lives. It’s a common infection of the respiratory system with symptoms like coughing and hacking. Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) or infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs.  It’s typically spread when a healthy dog is exposed to the respiratory secretions of an infected dog.

Dogs get kennel cough when they inhale bacteria or virus particles into their respiratory tract. This tract is normally lined with a coating of mucus that traps infectious particles, but there are a number of factors that can weaken this protection and make dogs prone to kennel cough infection, which results in inflammation of the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe).

If you’re wondering if kennel cough is contagious to humans, the answer is no. Even though kennel cough isn’t something that can make people sick, it that doesn’t mean it’s not possible for humans to spread it from dog to dog. Like the flu virus, Bordetella and other bacteria can live on surfaces, so it’s important to keep water bowls, toys, surfaces, and even your hands disinfected if you suspect your dog has kennel cough.

The Main Types of Kennel Cough

Although kennel cough is considered to be a multifactorial infection, there are two main forms;

The first form is milder and is caused by B. bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza infections, without complications from canine distemper virus (CDV) or canine adenovirus (CAV). This form occurs most regularly in autumn, and can be distinguished by symptoms such as a retching cough and vomiting.

The second form has a more complex combination of causative organisms, including CDV and CAV. It typically occurs in dogs that have not been vaccinated and it is not seasonal. Symptoms are more severe than the first form, and may include rhinitis, conjunctivitis, and fever, in addition to a hacking cough.

How do dogs get kennel cough?

Many dogs get it from being in dog kennels and shelters, which is where the illness gets its name. They become infected by being around other dogs who have the cough.

There are some factors that exacerbate the likelihood that a dog will be infected by kennel cough, and this includes;

  • Being around other dogs who have kennel cough
  • Being kept in crowded conditions
  • Poor ventilation
  • Cold temperatures
  • Exposure to dust or cigarette smoke
  • Travel-induced stress

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms develop 3–7 days after exposure to the causative germs. The main symptoms are:

  • A hacking cough
  • Retching or gagging
  • A runny nose

Most dogs appear otherwise well, with normal activity levels and appetite. Some will prefer softer foods while their throats are sore. It often starts with your dog making noises like he’s trying to clear his throat. This can include a retching sound and he might bring up some fluid (phlegm or spit). Over a day or so, this usually progresses to bouts of a hacking cough. Some dogs will cough so forcefully they can vomit.

The first few days are the worst. The cough will often be triggered by things like barking, pulling on the lead, getting excited or going out in cold air. Symptoms generally resolve over about 7–10 days. To prevent spread, try to keep your dog isolated from other dogs while he has active symptoms.

What does a dog coughing sound like?

The most obvious symptom of kennel cough is a forceful, hacking cough, which will often sound like your dog has something stuck in their throat. The cough can be dry and hoarse or productive, in which case it can be followed by a gag, swallowing motion or the production of mucus. It is distinct from a cough-like sound known as reverse sneezing, which is common in certain breeds and is triggered by irritation in the throat. This sound can often be mistaken for a cough, choking fit, sneezing, retching or gasping for breath.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your veterinarian diagnoses kennel cough based on the dog’s recent history and clinical signs. In most cases, it’s not important to identify the infectious agent responsible for a dog’s symptoms, but tests can be run if that becomes necessary.

Kennel cough can develop into a vicious cycle and the infection causes irritation that prompts a cough. But the honking cough causes even more irritation. Mild cases may resolve at home with rest and nursing care, but if a dog’s symptoms are severe or fail to improve relatively rapidly, veterinary care will be necessary.

Cough suppressants to relieve persistent coughing can help. When bacterial infections are involved, antibiotics may be required. Anti-inflammatory drugs and bronchodilators that open breathing passages to help the dog breathe may also be prescribed. If pneumonia develops, the dog will need more aggressive treatment.

Most dogs with kennel cough recover completely within three weeks, though it can take up to six weeks in older dogs or those with other medical conditions. Because serious, ongoing kennel cough infection can lead to pneumonia, be sure to follow up with your veterinarian if your dog doesn’t improve within the expected amount of time. Also, if your dog at any time has symptoms of rapid breathing, not eating, or listlessness, contact your vet right away, as these could be signs of more serious conditions.

Severe Cases of Kennel Cough

Complicated cases of kennel cough can cause your dog to become very sick. A dog with severe kennel cough will most likely be coughing, acting very lethargic, and not wanting to eat or drink.

If a dog has developed pneumonia, then treatment can involve:

  • Hospitalization
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Antibiotics
  • Possibly oxygen therapy


Puppy and booster vaccinations offer protection against some of the viruses that can cause kennel cough. These viruses include canine influenza, canine distemper, canine parainfluenza virus and canine adenovirus type two.

Your vet can also provide a vaccination against the main bacterial cause, Bordetella – this can be a nasal spray or an injection. Many boarding kennels require dogs to have the vaccination before their stay.

However, because kennel cough has a wide range of causes and strains, this vaccine may not guarantee protection for your dog.


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