Everything You Need to Know About Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel cough is an airborne respiratory infection caused by bacteria and viruses that affect dogs. The infection is highly contagious and affects the windpipe and the lungs. It is not fatal and can clear up within a few weeks without treatment. 

While it may not make the dogs ill, kennel cough in dogs can cause complications, especially in puppies, older dogs, and dogs with existing medical conditions. Kennel cough in greyhounds can make them more susceptible to conditions like pneumonia. In this article, we are going to look at everything there is to know about kennel cough in Labradors and other dog breeds.

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is a bronchitis infection in dogs. It can be caused by virusesand bacteria, sometimes a combination of both. The infection affects the dog’s respiratory system, which causes them to cough. Kennel cough can last up to 14 days without treatment. Its incubation period is between two to 14 days. There is a kennel cough vaccine available.

While some dogs may not get affected by kennel cough, they can act as carriers. This is why it is essential to have your dog in isolation for the two-week incubation period, as the disease is highly contagious.

What does a kennel cough sound like?

Much like the name, kennel cough sounds like a forceful, hacking cough. My greyhound Roxy once had kennel cough, and the coughing sounded like she had something stuck in her throat. Her cough was dry and hoarse, and sometimes it would be productive. When the cough was productive, it was usually followed by a gag and a swallowing motion, and mucus production. 

Is kennel cough fatal?

Kennel cough is normally not dangerous or fatal. It can be a nuisance for the dog, but there is no lasting effect from it. In most cases, kennel cough can go away with no need for treatment. With that said, kennel cough is highly contagious and passes from one dog to another easily.

While most dogs won’t be harmed by kennel cough, some are more vulnerable to it and can have resulting conditions. Some of the vulnerable ones include puppies, dogs with existing illnesses, and older dogs. Luckily for me, Roxy was a healthy greyhound. However, if your dog is more vulnerable, you should take him/her to a vet to get the most protection.

Vulnerable dogs are most affected by kennel cough, and it can develop into pneumonia. Keeping your dog in a clean and isolated area is a good way to ensure they get well better and don’t infect others with it. Some strains of the infection can be more severe than others. This depends on the germs that caused the virus. You would do well to take your dog to the vet if you’re not sure what strain your dog has. 

What are the causes of kennel cough?

Kennel cough is caused by various bacteria and viruses, or a combination of both. The most common type is caused by Bordetella Bronchiseptica. If this bacterium causes the cough, it can last for around 10 days, but the dog will still be contagious for up to 14 days.

In other cases, kennel cough can be caused by a combination of both bacteria; Bordetella Bronchiseptica, and a virus; the canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus, canine reovirus, or the canine distemper virus. This combination is more problematic as it attacks from both sides. It affects the respiratory system, and the virus attacks the respiratory tract cells and can harm the trachea.

Dogs can catch kennel cough if they inhale bacteria or virus particles. The particles will attack the respiratory tract, which has a mucus coating that traps infectious particles. There are factors, however, that can weaken the tract’s protection which can make dogs prone to the infection.

Some of the factors include:

  • Cold temperatures
  • Poorly ventilated and crowded areas such as dog shelters and kennels
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke or dust
  • Travel-induced stress

These factors lower the respiratory tracts’ ability to trap infectious particles, leaving the dogs more vulnerable to kennel cough. Your dog’s body language can also help you determine whether they are okay or not. 

What is a kennel cough’s incubation period?

Kennel cough has a 2-14 day incubation period. While some dogs can be physically affected with kennel cough, come can be carriers of the disease for months without showing any symptoms. You cannot know whether this is the case with your dog, but it is best to keep them out of crowded areas or those with overexposure to dust and smoke. Kennel cough can also be transmitted through toys, food and water bowls, or other shared objects. You need to make sure your dog’s living space is clean and that they do not share things during the incubation period.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough in dogs?

The most common symptom of kennel cough is the persistent, forceful, hacking cough. The cough has a hacking sound or can sound like a goose honk. The sound is commonly confused with reverse sneezing, which is found in certain breeds, like Chihuahuas. A reverse sneeze only indicates that there is a slight irritation in the throat and can indicate the presence of post-nasal drip.

Other symptoms of kennel cough can include sneezing, eye discharge, or a runny nose. The dog will not lose their appetite or have decreased energy. The cough can start as a constant cough while the dog is active. Some dogs develop fevers, which is an indication that they have a more serious strain of the disease. If that is the case, give your dog plenty of rest and plenty of tender loving care to help them recover quickly.

Vulnerable dogs, that is, smaller breeds, puppies, elderly dogs, or those with compromised immune systems, can have a harder time with the infection. Pay extra attention to your dog during this time, and make sure you note the changes. If your dog becomes lethargic, this could be an indication that the infection is taking a toll on its body and mental state. In this state, give your dog plenty of rest and adequate nutrition and take him to a vet to ensure they do no have underlying conditions.

How kennel cough is diagnosed

There is no sure way to diagnose kennel cough. I suspected Roxy had kennel cough because of her persistent coughing for over three days. She had been exposed to it in a crowded area with other canines, which helped me narrow it down.

The easiest way to diagnose kennel cough is by listening to the kind of cough your dog has and for how long it lasts. The infection does not require treatment in most cases, so it can go away without you noticing. You can take swabs to a vet to determine the kind of bacteria or virus causing the infection, although it is not necessary for treatment. Radiographs can be used if there are suspected complications to assess the dog’s condition.

If your dog is lively, active and has a healthy appetite, there is no need to go to the vet. You can even make some home remedies to help with the infection. However, if you notice that your dog is less active or has little to no appetite, contact the clinic. Avoid crowded areas and keep your dog away from others if they are coughing.

Medication can help speed up your dog’s recovery or ease the symptoms during infection. Some of the medications can include antibiotics and cough medicines. You should also keep your dog in a well-humidified area. Use a harness instead of a collar to prevent the dog from straining against the leash, which can aggravate the coughing further. You can leash-train your dog to teach them discipline and prevent them from harming themselves. Make sure your home is well-ventilated and free from dust and smoke. Doing this will help aid your dog’s recovery. You can also get anti-inflammatories and cough suppressants to make your dog more comfortable when on their road to recovery.

If you don’t see your dog improving within the expected period, follow up with your vet. An ongoing kennel cough infection may lead to a more serious condition like pneumonia. Another case when you should contact the vet is if your dog is listless, has no appetite, or shows symptoms of rapid breathing.

Remedies for kennel cough in dogs

You can create a few home remedies for kennel cough. These remedies, however, are only going to work if your dog has a mild case of infection. They can help ease their pain and discomfort and help the infection pass faster. Dogs can communicate with their owners to let them know when they are in pain. However, keep an eye out for signs that the kennel cough is getting more serious, and immediately contact your vet.

Natural remedies for kennel cough in dogs

  • Honey water

Honey for kennel cough is a great natural remedy for kennel cough. It helps to soothe your dog’s throat and minimizes coughing. To make this remedy, mix one tablespoon of honey with warm water in a bowl. Give this remedy to your dog up to three times a day, depending on the severity of the cough.

  • Steam therapy

This is an easy remedy, particularly if you are using a hot shower. Take your dog into the bathroom with you if you’re taking a hot shower or bath. Close the door to the bathroom, and let the dog inhale the steam. Steam therapy can help decrease their irritation. Do not let the dog into the shower with you.

  • Coconut oil treatment

Coconut oil for dogs is also another home remedy you can use for kennel cough. Coconut oil has antiviral properties that can help kennel cough caused by the Bordetella virus. Give your dog two teaspoons of coconut oil until their cough is cured. I would pour the coconut oil into Roxy’s food bowl, and she would eat right up. You can also let your dog lick it off the spoon. The oil will help reduce the congestion and increase their appetite.

  • Use a humidifier

You can place a small humidifier near where your dog is resting. It will moisten the air the dog is breathing and ease the irritation of the respiratory tract.

  • Cinnamon

Cinnamon can be utilized as a dietary supplement for dogs. It is a cabinet spice, so you don’t have to look for it. Sprinkle the cinnamon liberally over your dog’s food bowl whenever they have a cough. You can also use it any time during the year as a dietary supplement. Cinnamon is also an antiviral and helps ease the irritation and increase your dog’s appetite. Shake half a teaspoon over the bowl, use fragrant cinnamon for better results.

  • Rest

Ensure your dog gets plenty of rest while recovering from kennel cough. Reduce the amount of exercise the dog gets every day when they are still recovering. Plenty of rest can help reduce the coughing spells and help with the healing.

  • Probiotics

These are supplements and foods that offer the dog nutritional value. Probiotics work by removing harmful bacteria from your dog’s immune system. They are also an excellent source of oral and digestive health. 

If your vet prescribed some antibiotics for the kennel cough, wait at least two hours before giving the probiotic. Antibiotics and probiotics don’t work well together, so give your dog two or more hours after giving them the antibiotic before administering the probiotics, or they will cancel each other out and prevent healing.

  • Cough syrup

Kennel cough is the dog version of the cold for humans. As with the cold, dogs also have decongestant syrups that can heal the infection. Make sure the syrup you get has a good flavor that the dog will like. Administer one teaspoon three times a day, depending on the size and age of the dog.

Other remedies for kennel cough

If home remedies don’t seem to work, you should take your dog to the vet for professional help. Most vets will prescribe kennel cough antibiotics, as the infection is commonly caused by bacteria. In these cases, the infection is mostly mild, and the dog can quickly recover from kennel cough.

If your dog has a complicated strain of the infection, it can be sick for up to six weeks. Other dogs with vulnerable immunity, such as pregnant dogs, can develop pneumonia which can be fatal.

Complicated cases can cause the dog to become very sick, showing symptoms like a lack of appetite or lethargy. If you see this happening to your dog, contact the veterinary services immediately as this could be a sign of an underlying condition such as pneumonia.

If the dog develops pneumonia, they will need further and more serious treatment, which can involve:

  • Hospitalization
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Intravenous fluids

Kennel cough vaccine

There are three forms of kennel cough vaccine; injections, intranasal mist, and an oral vaccine. These vaccines are not necessary and do not guarantee protection against kennel cough or other infectious diseases. This is because there are several causes of the infection, and there is no cure for them all.

It is also critical to remember that the vaccine will not help to treat active infections. Rather, they are a way to protect your dog from catching the infection in the first place. You only need the vaccines if your dog is in frequent contact with other dogs, such as at dog parks, doggy daycare, or pet hotels. You should also ask for size-appropriate vaccines. My Roxy is a big dog, and the vaccine she gets cannot be given to a smaller breed, like a Chihuahua, for example.

Oral and intranasal vaccinations are given once a year. Sometimes though, the vet can recommend twice annually, especially for dogs at high risk for kennel cough, that is, those with weak immune systems or those who are more exposed to crowded dog areas. The intranasal and oral vaccinations offer more protection than compared to the injected vaccine.

The vaccination will not help a dog that is already incubating kennel cough or one that already has the infection. It can help lessen the symptoms and protect them from further attacks. The intranasal Bordetella vaccine gives protection for up to a year and can be administered to a dog as young as three weeks old. It takes four days to become effective and provides immunity for the dog.

Kennel cough in puppies

Puppies have an unformed immune system which makes them more vulnerable to diseases and infections. Kennel cough in puppies is common and is a result of the unformed protective mechanism, which increases a puppy’s chances to develop the infection.

Puppies can contract kennel cough when they come in direct contact, whether by sniffing or licking an infected dog or a contaminated object. The infection can also transmit through the air from one dog to another. Since puppies are more vulnerable, it may be a good idea to quarantine new puppies. Signs can develop between two to ten days after exposure, and quarantining them will limit their exposure to other infections.

How to treat kennel cough in puppies

A puppy with kennel cough is more vulnerable to a severe attack of the infection. As a pet parent, you can help your puppy avoid catching the infection or help in their treatment should they get infected.

Symptoms

Symptoms of kennel cough in puppies are similar to those in older dogs. It is characterized by a dry, hacking cough which sounds like a goose honk. The cough can be brought about by excitement and gentle pressure applied to the puppy’s neck or drinking. 

Your puppy may also have a slight fever, loss of appetite, or a nasal or eye discharge. These symptoms are rare and can last from a few days to several weeks.

Remedies and treatment

A veterinarian can diagnose your puppy with kennel cough, although it is not always necessary. Kennel cough can go away on its own after a few days. However, there are factors like the puppy’s clinical signs and its recent history that can help in the diagnosis. For example, if your puppy was adopted from a pet shelter or kennel or at a boarding facility, they might be more at risk of having the infection.

Remedies for kennel cough in puppies can help alleviate the symptoms without the need for veterinary care. Such remedies can include cough suppressants that relieve persistent coughing. You can also administer antibiotics if the cough is caused by a bacterial infection. 

A vet can also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and bronchodilators. These treatments open the breathing passages, helping the puppy breathe more freely. On the rare chances that pneumonia develops, your puppy will need monitored veterinary care and more aggressive treatment.

Home care

Keep your puppy in a warm and dry environment free from stress or factors that can increase inflammation. Encourage your dog to drink a lot of water, especially if they haven’t been drinking. You can add a little bit of broth to encourage them to drink. As with older dogs, you can give them probiotics that can ease the inflammation and boost their immune system. 

Keep your puppy at home, especially if they have kennel cough. Isolating the pup will reduce the chances of them infecting others. If you train your dog, you will have less trouble getting them to cooperate, especially if they want to go outside when they are sick. You should continue isolating the pup until the incubation period is over, even if their symptoms have gone away. Puppies can still be carriers of the infection for weeks after they are cured. You should also keep the coughing puppy away from dust or smoky areas such as fireplaces, campfires, and cigarette smoke.

Limit the puppy’s activities until the infection passes to avoid further irritation to the throat and use a harness. The strain as they pull on a leash can cause irritation which will increase the coughing. You can also ask for over-the-counter medicines, such as cough suppressants, especially if the coughing interferes with sleep.

Five tips for caring for a dog with kennel cough

Isolate the dog

Kennel cough is highly contagious and can spread quickly to other dogs. Every time your dog coughs, aerosol particles are released into the air, and that can spread the illness. Isolating the dog from others is important to ensure that other dogs don’t get infected. Don’t take the dog on walks to limit exposure. If you have other canines in the house and one of them develops kennel cough, chances are that they are already exposed, so isolation will not be necessary.

Medication

Yes, kennel cough is not, in most cases, serious. Yes, there are other home remedies for kennel cough. Despite all that, getting medication for your dog is not a bad idea. It is a way to speed up the recovery process. It can help soothe your dogs’ throat and reduce irritation. You can get cough suppressants which will remove the congestion from the chest and free up the lungs. You should especially consider giving them cough syrup if the coughing interferes with their sleep at night.

Another type of medication you can get is antibiotics. The vet can prescribe these antibiotics, but they are not necessary in some cases. If the infection is viral, then antibiotics won’t do any good, and it will be up to the dog’s immune system to kill the infection. If, however, the dog can’t fight off the infection themselves, it could be an indication of a bacterial infection, and that is where the antibiotics come to play. Antibiotics are prescribed in such cases as they kill the bacteria leaving your dog healthy and happy.

Hydration and rest

If your dog develops kennel cough, make sure they drink enough water. This water flushes out the harmful toxins, which can help them get rid of the infection faster. You can give the dog ice cubes to chew on if they don’t want to drink water. You may also thicken the water with some chicken broth to make the water more flavorful. 

Another way to care for a sick dog is by giving them as much rest as possible. Prevent the dog from performing any strenuous activities. Put off taking them for walks until they get better, this not only reduces the chances of them transmitting the infection to other dogs, but it will also reduce the exertion. The exertion from walks can irritate the airways and worsen the cough. You can find indoor games that will not tire them out but give them the exercise they need.

Steam therapy or vaporizer

Another way to make your dog more comfortable when they have kennel cough is by using a vaporizer or a humidifier to ease their symptoms. A humidifier adds moisture to the air and soothes the dry cough. Place the humidifier close to where the dog is sleeping to ensure they inhale the air.

If you do not have a humidifier or a vaporizer, expose your dog to steam. As mentioned above, take the dog into the bathroom with you when you go take a shower. Let the dog inhale the steam from your shower. The steam will loosen up the phlegm in the throat and relieve the cough. Take a bowl of water with you just in case the steam makes the dog hot.

Home remedies

You can use traditional at-home remedies to care for your sick dog. One of these remedies is using honey for treatment. Mix one tablespoon of honey, one teaspoon of lemon juice, and a glass of warm water to soothe the tickle. You can give your dog this mixture hourly, depending on the frequency of the cough. Do not use this mixture if your dog has diabetes, as the honey is harmful to them.

Another at-home remedy is using coconut oil. Like honey, it has anti-inflammatory features that will soothe the cough. It also increases the appetite for dogs that have no appetite. You can also sprinkle some cinnamon in their food or water to ease the cough.

Frequently asked questions about kennel cough

What does kennel cough sound like?

Kennel cough is characterized by a high-pitched persistent cough. The cough sounds like the honking of a goose. The cough makes a forceful, hacking sound which can sound like the dog has a foreign object stuck in its throat. It can be dry and hoarse or productive. If it is productive, it can be followed by a swallowing motion or the production of mucus. The cough’s frequency can vary, from coughing every few minutes to constant coughing, especially when they are active.

Is kennel cough fatal?

Just like common cold in humans, kennel cough is not fatal. It is a nuisance and can irritate the dog, but it is not life-threatening. The cough can go away on its own after a few weeks with no need for treatment.

However, in puppies, pregnant dogs, elderly dogs, or dogs with existing illnesses, kennel cough can be more serious and can cause further complications, like pneumonia. Other strains can also be more serious than others, depending on the germs that caused the virus. If your dog develops a fever or appears lethargic, it can be a sign that the cough is more severe and might need professional help.

What is the incubation period of kennel cough?

The incubation period of kennel cough can last anywhere from two to 14 days. Dogs with a mild form of the cough will only be sick for around two weeks before making a full recovery. However, there is a chance that a dog with kennel cough is still a carrier for the infection, so it is better to isolate the dog for up to three weeks.

Some dogs can be carriers of the infection for months without showing any symptoms. In such cases, the dogs may not exhibit any symptoms but can still spread it to other dogs.

How long should I isolate a dog with kennel cough?

It is best to isolate a dog with kennel cough for at least two weeks after the symptoms stop. The isolation period starts when you discover the dog showing symptoms of kennel cough. The extra two weeks are to ensure the incubation period has passed and that the dog is not at risk of infecting others.

If you shelter the dogs in a kennel and one of them develops kennel cough, clear out the kennel for two weeks and use disinfectants to clean it. The infection is spread by contact with the sick dog or objects that the sick dog has touched or shared, such as food bowls. Clean these objects with disinfectant to ensure the other dogs don’t get infected.

Does kennel cough have a vaccine?

The Bordetella vaccine is the most common vaccine for kennel cough. It protects dogs from the Bordetella virus, which is the most common cause of kennel cough. The vaccine is given to puppies and adult dogs.

There are two ways to administer the vaccine; as an injection and as an intranasal mist. The method of administration depends on the dogs’ behaviors and what they can tolerate. The nasal vaccine can be given to puppies as young as three weeks old.

Is kennel cough contagious to humans?

Although very rare, kennel cough can be passed from dogs to humans. Dogs with compromised immune systems, such as those with lung cancer or HIV, are at risk of contracting kennel cough.

The symptoms of kennel cough in humans include a persistent cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, fever, and other respiratory symptoms. For treatment, the doctor can recommend antibiotics and cough suppressants to treat the symptoms.

Humans with preexisting medical conditions such as lung disease or autoimmune neutropenia have higher chances of catching kennel cough. They may also develop an upper respiratory tract infection or pneumonia.

Is kennel cough contagious to cats?

Cats can catch kennel cough. Feline kennel cough is caused by the same bordetella bacteria that causes kennel cough in dogs. Its symptoms mimic herpes virus, feline calicivirus, and chlamydia. The cats also have a persistent cough that can be accompanied by difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, nasal and eye discharge, and listlessness.

The treatment for feline kennel cough is similar to that of dogs. Administer antibiotics and cough suppressants and use humidifiers and steam therapy. Cats will need nutritional support too, which can be in the form of intravenous or subcutaneous fluids. 

There is also a vaccine to prevent them from contracting the disease. It is an intranasal vaccine and is administered through a few drops in the nose.

Will kennel cough go away on its own?

In most cases, kennel cough does not require treatment. It can clear up without treatment in a few weeks. Dogs who had the treatment can continue to be carriers even after the infection has passed. Others are only carriers of the disease but will not show any symptoms.

While kennel cough will likely go away on its own, you should consider getting your dog vaccinated to protect them against the infection. You should also take your dog to the vet if the cough doesn’t clear up within two weeks or if you notice further symptoms.

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