Kennel Cough: Understanding the Disease and its Symptoms

Kennel Cough
Understanding the Disease and its Symptoms

“…all dog owners should have a basic understanding of this condition.”

The term “kennel cough” is a bit of a misnomer, leading some dog owners to falsely believe that only dogs that are kenneled can develop this extremely common disease. In fact, any dog that comes in contact with other dogs or with areas that have been recently contaminated by infected dogs is at risk. Therefore, all dog owners should have a basic understanding of this condition.

Overview/Snapshot of the Disease

Kennel cough, which also goes by the name of infectious tracheobronchitis, is caused by several different types of contagious viruses and bacteria. Whichever pathogens are involved, they infect only the dog’s larger airways rather than the lung tissue itself, a condition known as pneumonia.

Kennel Cough Symptoms

Dogs with this condition typically have a dry, hacking cough sometimes followed by a gag or retch. Most dogs don’t otherwise act very sick, but the cough may persist for several weeks. Dogs usually continue to eat well and are active but may cough more with exercise. In some cases, pneumonia can develop if the infection moves deeper into a dog’s lungs.

Dogs with pneumonia are very sick and can develop a fever, loss of energy and appetite, a moist cough that brings up a lot of phlegm, discharge from the nose, and difficult or rapid breathing.

Mastiff DogCauses

Although this condition is often caused by infection with the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica, other bacteria and several different types of viruses can be involved as well. The bacteria and viruses that cause this condition are very contagious, so dogs in close contact with other dogs on a regular basis are at greatest risk.

Anything that suppresses a dog’s immune system and makes it more difficult to fight off the disease can also play a role, including stress, very young or old age, or underlying disease. Lack of current vaccination is another risk factor.

Kennel Cough Treatment

Many different diseases, some serious and some not, can make dogs cough. Therefore, if your dog has developed any signs of respiratory disease, the best course of action is to make an appointment with your veterinarian.

In some cases, a doctor will feel comfortable diagnosing this dog health problem based simply on a dog’s history, clinical signs, and a physical exam. If, however, he or she is concerned that your dog’s cough is not caused by infectious tracheobronchitis or that pneumonia has developed, chest x-rays, blood work, and other diagnostic tests may be necessary.

Many routine cases of this common canine health problem will resolve with rest and supportive care. More severely affected dogs may require antibiotics and cough suppressants.


Dogs that contract this “cough” are very contagious. The best way to prevent the disease’s spread is to isolate infected animals until their symptoms have completely disappeared. To protect your dog, make sure that he is up to date on all of his vaccines, including Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza, and adenovirus.

Consulting Veterinarian: Jennifer Coates, DVM

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