Kennel Cough In Dogs: Symptoms & Treatment

Kennel cough is one of the most common diseases which spreads amongst dogs.

This may be because it is highly contagious, as well as the vaccination against kennel cough not actually being part of a dog’s annual vaccinations. The kennel cough vaccine is an optional extra but highly recommended.

Unfortunately, a dog with the kennel cough vaccine can still get the disease as there are so many variants around. However, being protected will highly reduce their chances of this, as well as reduce the effect of the disease.

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is a respiratory infection. It is passed onto other dogs through airborne droplets, direct contact, or contaminated surfaces. Because of this, it is most commonly found in areas with a large number of dogs, such as boarding kennels.

As infected dogs shed the infection, it can also be passed on through human shoes and clothing, meaning one infected dog in a kennel can actually pass the disease on to dozens of other dogs if humans aren’t careful.

In rescue centres, infected dogs will usually have to be isolated and any humans will need to wear protective clothing to limit spread.

Kennel cough is highly treatable in dogs but can be dangerous to any dogs under six months of age as well as dogs who are already immunocompromised.

Can I vaccinate my dog against kennel cough?

Yes. Kennel cough vaccinations aren’t mandatory like many other vaccines, but they are highly recommended. Most day boarding kennels, doggy daycare centres, or holiday boarding kennels, will ask for proof of a recent kennel cough vaccination in order to allow your dog to attend.

Reputable sites will always ask for proof of all vaccinations, including kennel cough. If your chosen venue doesn’t, try to reconsider where you are taking your dog

As mentioned, kennel cough vaccinations protect against most but not all strains of the infection. Therefore, it is vital to try and limit your dog mixing with dogs who haven’t been vaccinated against the infection.

Dogs will sometimes show mild symptoms of kennel cough after their vaccine. This is just like a human flu vaccine or Covid-19 vaccine. Don’t be alarmed, but you may want to keep them away from other dogs for a while until the vaccine kicks in (which could take 30 days).

How is a kennel cough vaccine administered?

While referred to as a vaccine, kennel cough is actually given as a nasal shot. This can be tricky for some dogs to get used to, and there are now some options that can be given orally. This is rare but do talk to your vet if you have had trouble in the past.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

Unsurprisingly, a very strong hacking cough is the first sign that something is wrong with your dog. This will take on an almost honking sound, though, so is notable different to a choking noise or a reverse sneeze. Other symptoms are similar to a human cold:

  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • fever

Some other diseases, such as distemper, can also start off with a coughing noise. It could also be a sign of another infection or asthma. You need to inform your vet of coughing ASAP, but don’t take your dog straight to the vet. If it is kennel cough, your dog will need to be isolated from other dogs so the veterinarian needs to be prepared.

How long does kennel cough last?

Kennel cough symptoms will last for a few weeks. The cough can last for a little while longer due to the irritation of the throat, even if the other symptoms have subsided.

Try to stay away from other dogs for a few weeks until all symptoms have cleared, as they could still be shedding the virus.

If your dog is healthy enough to go for a walk when they are recovering from kennel cough, and are over the initial symptoms, using a harness can prevent irritation of the trachea. Try to stick to quiet routes and inform other owners of your dog’s illness if they have dogs off the lead who may approach yours.

Can kennel cough be treated?

In terms of treatment, kennel cough is a little bit like human influenza. Plenty of rest and fluids can work wonders. In most cases, they don’t even need to physically see a vet.

  • Honey and warm water can not only help soothe the throat but also makes the water sweeter and more appealing
  • If your dog isn’t eating, strong smelly foods and meats may help
  • Rest is key, so limit really long walks and keep the house quiet

In some more severe cases, medication may be given to prevent secondary infection (a dog’s immune system will be affected by kennel cough). They may also be given cough medication to ease symptoms. You should always see a vet if your dog’s symptoms are severe, such as laboured breathing, completely off all food or they are otherwise unwell.

Having an online video vet policy to hand can help here, as they will be able to assess whether you need to physically travel to the vet. Some may also be able to prescribe medications straight to your door.

This upper respiratory tract infection can progress to the lungs, causing pneumonia, if left untreated. So while most dogs will fully recover, some can have lasting issues.

How infectious is kennel cough?

While it isn’t usually dangerous, it is unpleasant and highly infectious. If a dog is infected, they are constantly shedding the virus. These particles can be picked up through water dishes, shared toys, human contact, physical contact between dogs, airborne particles and pretty much any contaminated surface.

This is why it is vital to ensure you and your dog limit contact with other dogs if yours has kennel cough. It is also why it is important to check your chosen kennel has policies in place to limit kennel cough, such as compulsory vaccination. Even if your dog doesn’t become infected, it could infect other dogs.