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Kennel Cough and Dogs: Let's Talk Common Signs and Symptoms

What is kennel cough? Think the common cold for dogs.

 |  Dec 12th 2013  |   4 Contributions


Kennel cough is an upper respiratory condition that affects dogs, and normally presents as a dry cough, sometimes producing a white phlegm. While it is very contagious, kennel cough is not a particularly dangerous or life-threatening disorder.

How long does kennel cough last? The typical case of kennel cough lasts for about three weeks before it clears up on its own. If you live with several dogs, or don't clean your dog's environment regularly, the symptoms of kennel cough can be exacerbated by other infections and turn into something worse like pneumonia. It is best to take preventative measures, including cleaning, disinfecting, properly ventilating, and vaccinating, to prevent potential complications from arising.

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If your dog suffers from chronic coughing, a trip to the vet is your best bet for a cure or management. Photo: Close-up of veterinarian examining cute little dog by Shutterstock

What is kennel cough?

The medical term for kennel cough is Infectious Canine Tracheobronchitis, but it is not a single thing, nor is it caused by a single pathogen. The most typical agents responsible for kennel cough are the parainfluenza virus, the canine adenovirus type 2, and the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica. “Kennel cough” itself is a colloquial term, getting its name from the conditions that give rise to it, which occur when many dogs share the same space, the sort of conditions one finds in a kennel. Indeed, any place where a variety or number of dogs are present, from dog beaches to dog groomers, are more likely to be places where kennel cough can spread.

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Kennel cough spreads rapidly where many dogs share the same space. Puppies 2 months old, eating from the plate by Shutterstock.

Kennel cough is transmitted in a variety of ways. The most common modes of transmission are airborne, when dog coughing spreads the agent, and contact. The viruses and bacteria that cause kennel cough can be inhaled or ingested by your dog when it is around other infected dogs. It can also be transmitted by physical contact with any surface that is host to a pathogen. This can be anything from a dog, a toy, a dish, carpet, or couch where the agents are present. As with other infectious diseases, risk is also higher for kennel cough in puppies, whose immune systems are not fully developed, older dogs, and dogs who are ill.

Single-dog homes are not at great risk of their pet contracting kennel cough. As the name suggests, dog owners who should be most concerned about kennel cough are those who own multiple dogs who occupy the same common areas or spend a lot of time in close contact with each other. Vaccination and hygiene together are the best plan of attack to prevent the rise and spread of kennel cough.

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"Kennel cough" is just a name; kennel cough is common in any place where many dogs live close together. Dogs by Shutterstock.

Kennel cough symptoms and treatment

Symptoms of kennel cough can be difficult to read, since a dog may seem otherwise healthy. Signs of kennel cough include the persistent dry cough that gives the ailment its name.

What does kennel cough sound like? You may hear that cough sometimes accompanied by what sounds a little like a goose’s honk and a retching noise. If you live in a home with several dogs and suspect one has kennel cough, it is best to keep the affected dog away from the others to minimize the risk of it spreading to the other dogs in your household.

The first step in kennel cough treatment when your dog shows symptoms, especially if you have several dogs, is to isolate the affected dog from others while the illness runs its course. Make sure your sick dog or puppy gets plenty of fresh air, and that the place the dog is staying is well-ventilated and easy to clean and disinfect, to prevent the pathogens from staying behind or spreading to others once the dog is better. Kennel cough treatment is relatively simple as long as you can keep a sick dog away from others and clean and disinfect the dog’s environment, playthings, and dishes.

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This tiny gentleman will need his toy disinfected while he recovers from kennel cough. A photo of a tiny cute chihuahua with a sick bear by Shutterstock.

With a mild disorder like this, you can find plenty of information home remedies for kennel cough. Dogster has a wonderful article with five different ways of dealing with the problem. Choose the kennel cough home remedy that works for you!

Take steps to prevent kennel cough

The five-in-one vaccination is a preventative measure against five common ailments in dogs, including parainfluenza, one of the lead actors, along with the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, in the kennel cough drama. The combination vaccine also guards against parvo, hepatitis, distemper, and leptospirosis. The DA2PPC vaccine is another combination shot, which boosts immunity to parainfluenza, adenovirus type 2, canine coronavirus, distempter, hepatitis, and parvo. Get your puppies vaccinated! If you own an older dog who isn't vaccinated, or you're uncertain, a booster immunization is an easy step to take to ensure the health of your dog.

While reputable kennels tend to ask for proof of vaccination as a requirement of boarding dogs, that does not prevent any dog from potentially being a carrier. It is always worthwhile if your dog is going to be around a number of other dogs who might have kennel cough symptoms, or if you own multiple dogs, to make certain their vaccinations are current before exposing them to situations that are naturally higher-risk for kennel cough.

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Many dogs in close quarters can foster the appearance of kennel cough symptoms. Large And Small Dogs In A Pet Boarding Facility by Shutterstock.

However, since kennel cough can be caused by a number of pathogens and circumstances, vaccination alone is not a guarantee to keeping your dogs safe from kennel cough, so cleanliness and hygiene also play a significant role. As for hygiene, if you have two or more dogs in your home, clean their toys, dishes, blankets, and anything else they share on a regular basis. In kennels, shelters, and homes with multiple dogs, keeping the dogs' common environment clean and disinfected is the best practical safeguard against the rapid spread of infection of all kinds.

Have you dealt with kennel cough recently? Feel free to share your own kennel cough home remedy in the comments! 

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