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Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel cough is a group of contagious respiratory diseases in dogs which can be caused by certain bacteria and viruses. This page looks at the symptoms, causes, and conventional treatment of dog kennel cough.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, Bordetellosis, or Bordetella, is not one disease but rather a group of highly contagious upper respiratory diseases in dogs. The infection tends to affect young puppies and adult dogs with weakened immune systems, and can spread rapidly in crowded places such as boarding kennels, hence the name "kennel cough".

In most cases, kennel cough in dogs is rather mild and an infected dog will get over the cough in 1 to 2 weeks provided that the dog has plenty of rest in a stress-free environment.

This page looks at the following topics:

For some suggestions on treating kennel cough at home, please visit our page on Home Treatment for Kennel Cough.

Causes of Kennel Cough in Dogs

There are several viruses and bacteria, alone or in combination, that can cause kennel cough in dogs.

The most common virus that causes kennel cough is canine parainfluenza virus, whereas the most common bacteria is Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Canine parainfluenza virus usually causes mild symptoms in dogs that last for less than 6 days.

A dog infected with the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica usually shows symptoms 2 to 14 days after exposure, and the symptoms will last around 10 days.

Other causes of kennel cough include:
  • Canine adenovirus types CAV-1 and CAV-2
  • Canine herpesvirus
  • Canine distemper
  • Mycoplasma

Kennel Cough Symptoms

One typical symptom of kennel cough in dogs is an unproductive, harsh, dry, hacking cough, which is often accompanied by gagging and retching. The dog may also have a watery nasal discharge and/or eye discharge. In puppies, kennel cough can be accompanied by nasal congestion.

In spite of the cough, a mildly infected dog usually is active and alert, has a good appetite, and a normal body temperature.

A dog with a more severe form of kennel cough (one that can lead to pneumonia) will have a low-grade fluctuating fever, appetite loss, and will also show signs of weakness and lethargy. The dog will also have a moist productive cough, nasal discharge, wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Dogs suffering from tracheal collapse, bronchitis, or other pre-existing diseases that may lower their resistance to infections are more likely to develop secondary bacterial pneumonia from kennel cough.


Take your dog to the vet if he shows these symptoms:
    * Difficulty breathing
    * Nose or eye discharge
    * Fever
    * Appetite loss
    * Weakness and lethargy

Kennel Cough Treatment

Conventional treatment of kennel cough in dogs depends on the severity of the infection.

For mild cases of kennel cough, antibiotics may or may not be administered. If administered, the drugs of choice are the tetracyclines and trimethoprimsulfa and the antibiotics are continued for 7 to 10 days. In addition, cough suppressants may also be used to treat mild cases.

Dogs with mild cases of kennel cough can have moderate daily exercise, but strenuous exercise should be avoided.

For more severe cases (cases in which the dog is not eating, running a fever, or showing signs of pneumonia), the dog will be hospitalized and intramuscular or intravenous antibiotics are routinely used. In addition, bronchodilators (drugs that dilate the breathing passages) will be given.

In addition to drug therapy, humidification is frequently recommended. A cool mist vaporizer can be used to add moisture to the air which can soothe the dog's airway.

Because pressure on the throat and trachea can worsen the cough, avoid putting a neck collar on a coughing dog - use a head collar or harness instead.
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