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Sick puppy lying in dog bed

The essentials

  • Kennel cough has a noticeably odd sound — A cough that sounds like a honk is the first sign. There’s also usually a gag at the end of the cough.
  • Kennel cough is highly contagious — Kennel cough is caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses, and is spread through contact with infected dogs, making it especially easy for your pup to catch if exposed.
  • Your vet can help — The good news is kennel cough is treatable with the help of a vet, vaccines, and medication. It’s important to seek care to avoid secondary infection.

Kennel cough (aka canine infectious tracheobronchitis or canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC)) is a contagious respiratory disease. Dogs can contract kennel cough anywhere large groups of dogs congregate, like boarding facilities, dog parks, or animal shelters.

👉 CIRDC is caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses, including the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica and the Parafluenza virus. 

Here’s what you need to know about symptoms, causes, and treatments for kennel cough.

How kennel cough spreads

Kennel cough spreads in one of three ways:

  • Airborne droplets. Kennel cough can spread in the air. Droplets can travel several feet or further, which is what makes it so contagious. Dogs can also spread it before any symptoms are shown.
  • Skin contact. This one seems obvious. Dogs in direct contact with one another can spread kennel cough. If you have more than one dog living under the same roof, they may all have it.
  • Contaminated surfaces. Bordetella bacteria can live on surfaces for several days. This includes water bowls and toys, which is why social areas are at higher risk.

👉 Make sure your pup is fully cured before socializing them. Keep your dog home for one week after symptoms have disappeared.

Identifying symptoms of kennel cough (or tracheobronchitis)

The most obvious sign is a honking or hacking cough. The cough will be persistent and may get worse throughout a couple of days.

Other warning signs include cold-like symptoms. Look for symptoms like:

Notice anything familiar? Symptoms of kennel cough may appear like symptoms of canine influenza. If it progresses, it can result in secondary pneumonia, so it’s important to pay attention to symptoms, note how long they last, and go to the vet if it doesn’t clear up after a few days.

👉 Not sure what to look for? The cough will sound something like this: 

Kennel cough: Incubation period and contagion stages

If your dog is exposed to another sick dog, pay attention. The incubation period is the time between exposure and the first sign of symptoms. For kennel cough, the incubation period of the illness can be anywhere between 2-14 days.

How long does kennel cough last?

Most cases resolve between 1 and 3 weeks. Coughing, however, can last for multiple months if it is a more severe case, mixed with something like the influenza virus, or in dogs with pre-existing medical conditions.

Respiratory infections need time to run their course. Eventually, your dog’s cough will subside, but sometimes the hack will linger around longer. In severe cases, secondary infections may develop.

👉 If Bordetella is the main culprit, kennel cough usually lasts around 10 days.

How long is kennel cough contagious?

Dogs are at their most contagious after they have stopped displaying symptoms. This period of contagion extends until after symptoms resolve. Because of this, it’s best to avoid boarding facilities, daycares, dog shows, or dog parks — anywhere your dog may hang around with other dogs during this period.

It takes dogs 14 days to shed the kennel cough virus, so keep your dog isolated for at least 1 to 2 weeks after the onset of symptoms to ensure that it doesn’t spread to other dogs in the home or community. Just because the cough may be gone, it doesn’t mean the dog is no longer contagious.

How to treat kennel cough

Kennel cough is treatable. Sometimes, it resolves itself, but if you suspect your dog has kennel cough, you should:

Isolate your dog — By isolating and narrowing the spread of the disease, you can help protect other pets.

Disinfect — If you have a multi-pet household, after you isolate your dog, disinfect any communal areas your dog has been in to help prevent the spread.

Go to the vet — While it’s not typically serious, their symptoms may involve other illnesses. If your dog is at higher risk, such as a senior dog, puppy, or a pup with other underlying health issues, it’s important to go for a check-up.

Depending on the severity of the condition, vets typically won’t prescribe anything for the infected dog and will let the dog’s immune system fight off the illness, giving you advice to help them do that naturally (like a steamy shower to clear congestion).

They might also choose to do a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia and inflammation in the lungs or, in some cases, collect a swab from the nose or throat to determine the specific pathogen involved.

If they do prescribe something, it will be an antibiotic like doxycycline, or a cough suppressant if the cough hasn’t cleared up after several days. In severe cases, nebulizers and vaporizers can be prescribed to stave off a secondary infection.

Kennel cough prevention

Follow these steps to avoid infection:

Avoid communal areas — The best way to prevent kennel cough is to stay away from infected pups and avoid areas where it tends to be. This can include dog parks, groomers, boarding, or daycare.

Use air purifiers — Purifying the air indoors not only removes dust and smoke, but it also removes any organisms that have been carried in on clothing, toys, or fur.

DestressStress can be tough on the immune system, so helping them stay healthy with some TLC and strengthening the bond with your dog can help. You can also reduce their anxiety too.

Vaccines — Last but certainly not least, consider getting your dog vaccinated. The best protection you can give them is to give their immune system extra help fighting off common illnesses that can endanger your pup. It can also lower the severity of infection and the risk of pneumonia.

Kennel cough can be a scary diagnosis for any pet parent. Luckily, there are steps that you can take to minimize risk and lower your pet’s exposure. Knowing the signs of kennel cough can boost your pet’s quality of life, connecting them with the care they need sooner. Vaccines, stress relief routines, and avoiding communal areas are some of the top strategies you can use to avoid infection.

Frequently asked questions

Can dogs get kennel cough from humans?

In rare cases, Bordetella bronchiseptica has infected people. There is a higher risk of this occurring if the person is immunocompromised.

How can I tell if my dog has kennel cough?

If your dog has a hacking cough (like you’d expect from cigarette smoke inhalation), lethargy, and cold symptoms (like runny nose and sneezing), they could have kennel cough.

If you’re in doubt, it’s a good idea to get veterinary support as soon as possible to avoid complications and “catch” it early. It affects your dog’s respiratory tract and, left untreated, can lead to pneumonia and other severe symptoms.

Can kennel cough go away by itself?

If it’s not made complex with secondary infections or issues (like pneumonia), kennel cough can go away on its own. However, it’s best to get your veterinarian involved so they can make a formal assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan for your pet.

What is the fastest way to cure kennel cough?

Many experts recommend rest and fluids as first-line treatment for your pet. In certain cases, your veterinarian might recommend medications (like antibiotics or cough suppressants) to address your dog’s symptoms and hasten the healing process.

Can a dog get kennel cough when vaccinated?

Different bacteria and viruses can cause kennel cough, so vaccinating against a single organism can only help prevent one way your dog can get kennel cough. However, vaccines, particularly ones that vaccinate against multiple pathogens, can help reduce the chances of your dog contracting it.