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Cute labrador puppy dog sitting confortably in the arms of veterinary healthcare professional

kennel cough is only life threatening in young puppies and older dogs

The essentials

  • Kennel cough has a noticeably odd sound — A cough that sounds like a honk is the first sign.
  • Kennel cough is highly contagious — Kennel cough bacteria spread in the air, 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. It’s important to avoid secondary infection.

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough (canine infectious tracheobronchitis) is a contagious respiratory disease. Dogs can contract kennel cough, also called “Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex,”  anywhere large groups of dogs congregate, like boarding facilities, dog parks, or animal shelters. Bordetella bacteria and Bordetella bronchiseptica are commonly referred to as kennel cough and also fall under the CIRDC umbrella.

How it spreads

Kennel cough spreads in one of three ways.

  1. Airborne droplets. Kennel cough bacteria can spread in the air. Droplets can travel six feet or further. This is what makes it so contagious.
  2. 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.
  3. Contaminated surfaces. Bordetella bacteria can live on surfaces for up to two 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.

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 is two to fourteen days.

How long does kennel cough last?

Once your dog has caught kennel cough, symptoms usually last a few days. In more severe cases, kennel cough lasts for several weeks. If Bordetella is the main culprit, kennel cough will last around ten days.

How long is kennel cough contagious?

When the cough is gone, it doesn’t mean the dog is no longer contagious. Owners should not take dogs out until one week after they’re entirely symptom-free to ensure they won’t spread the virus.

Dogs are at their most contagious after they have stopped displaying symptoms. 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.

Identifying symptoms of kennel cough

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

👉 The cough will sound something like this: 

Other warning signs include cold-like symptoms. Look for a runny nose, nasal discharge, sneezing, eye discharge, lethargy, and low-grade fever. 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.

How to treat kennel cough

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

  1. Isolate your dog. By isolating and narrowing the spread of the virus, you can help protect other pets.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

The vet will typically not prescribe anything and will let the dog’s immune system fight off the illness. The first plan of action is for your dog to get plenty of rest. 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 are prescribed to stave off a secondary infection.

A note on young puppies, older dogs, and immunocompromised dogs

Dogs under six months old and dogs with compromised immune systems might have a harder time fighting kennel cough. They are also at higher risk of developing canine influenza. That’s why it’s important to recognize the warning signs early in these pups.

What if symptoms aren’t getting better?

Most cases resolve in somewhere between one and three weeks. Coughing can last for multiple months if it is a more severe case or mixed with something like the influenza virus.

Sometimes, symptoms worsen before getting better, even if you’ve visited the vet for treatment. This is because 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.

Kennel cough and secondary infection

Head to the vet if symptoms do persist. It might be something more severe, like dog influenza or pneumonia.

How long is kennel cough contagious?

It takes dogs 14 days to shed the Kennel cough virus, so keep your dog isolated for at least two weeks after the onset of symptoms to ensure that it doesn’t spread to other dogs in the home or community.

Kennel cough prevention

Limiting exposure is the best way to prevent the spread of kennel cough. Certain factors increase the likelihood that your dog may contract kennel cough. 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.
  • Use air purifiers. Purifying the air indoors not only removes dust and smoke, but it also removes any viruses that have been carried in on clothing, toys, or fur.
  • Destress. Stress can be tough on the immune system, so helping them stay healthy with spa days 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.

👉 Use a harness and not a collar when walking a dog with kennel cough. Pulling on your dog’s chest instead of the neck could help prevent a coughing fit. 

Vets recommend kennel cough vaccines

Vaccines to prevent kennel cough infections exist. The vaccine can be injected, used as a nasal mist, or taken orally. It will not prevent 100% of infections, but it will prevent some of the most severe symptoms.

Vaccinations will also decrease the chances that a dog develops pneumonia. Vaccination is given to fight against things like canine parainfluenza virus and canine adenovirus. According to a vet, these are highly effective. Even healthy dogs should consider vaccination. We recommend vaccination to any dog who gets groomed, goes to dog parks, or stays at boarding facilities.

Puppies can get the vaccination as early as eight weeks old. Older or at-risk dogs can be vaccinated every six to twelve months.

Frequently asked questions

Can humans get kennel cough?

Humans can catch the Bordetella bacteria from other means, not just canines, but it’s rare and specific to high-risk individuals. It is important to note that only particular infections (like rabies) can be transmitted from dogs to humans.

How dangerous is it for a dog to have kennel cough?

For healthy dogs, it’s more of a nuisance. In aging and immunocompromised dogs, as well as puppies, it can be more serious. The best way to prevent or lessen the impact of kennel cough on your dog is with vaccinations and being aware of where your dog goes and other dogs they are around.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

The most telling sign of kennel cough is the hacking, forceful cough. It is sharp and sounds like your dog may have something caught in their throat.

Can a dog die from kennel cough?

In almost all cases a dog won’t die from kennel cough. However, older dogs, those with underlying health conditions, and puppies are at a higher risk of kennel cough being more serious. For higher risk dogs or a persistent cough that lasts more than a few days, it’s best to go to the vet.

Can a dog get kennel cough when vaccinated?

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