Understanding Kennel Cough in Dogs: Signs, Prevention, and Treatment

Dr. Dennis Horter,
DVM, MS, ABVP, Dipl ACVPM, CVPP CityVet Chief Operating Officer

Summer travel is in full swing, meaning plenty of pet owners are boarding their furry companions while they are away. Summer is a prime time for respiratory disease outbreaks in our canine companions, and one of the concerns that you have likely heard about is an uptick in the cases of “Kennel Cough”. By understanding this condition and its implications, pet owners can take appropriate measures to minimize the risks to their canine friends.

Understanding Kennel Cough in Dogs: Signs, Prevention, and Treatment

“Kennel cough”, which is a common name for the condition known as canine infectious respiratory disease complex or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that affects dogs of all ages and breeds. It is commonly spread in environments where dogs gather in close proximity, such as boarding kennels, dog parks, and training facilities. Understanding the signs, prevention methods, and necessary steps to take if your dog contracts kennel cough is essential in maintaining their health and well-being.

“Kennel cough” is a highly contagious respiratory condition that affects dogs of all ages and breeds. It is characterized by sneezing, nasal discharge, and/or a dry, hacking cough, which can be alarming for pet owners. Kennel cough is caused by a combination of infectious agents, including bacteria (such as Bordetella bronchiseptica) and viruses (such as canine influenza and canine parainfluenza virus). Dogs primarily contract kennel cough through close contact with other dogs, such as kennels, grooming facilities, and dog parks. While kennel cough is usually a mild illness, it can progress to more severe respiratory complications, especially in puppies, senior dogs, or those with weakened immune systems.

Prevention Methods

  • Vaccination and Prevention: Vaccination is the primary method for reducing the signs and symptoms and includes immunization against some of the agents such as Bordetella bronchiseptica, Canine influenza, and canine parainfluenza virus.  Your veterinary team will be able to advise you on the appropriate vaccination schedule.
  • Minimize Exposure: When possible, avoid exposing your dog to crowded or poorly ventilated areas where the risk of infection is higher. If your dog is already infected, it is important to minimize contact with other dogs until they have fully recovered in order to help prevent further spread of the disease.
  • Hygiene Practices: Maintain good hygiene practices by regularly cleaning and disinfecting your dog’s bedding, toys, and food and water bowls.
  • Preventive care: A healthy pet can fight off infections more effectively. Ensure your dog receives a balanced diet, regular exercise, proper veterinary care, and vaccinations to enhance their overall health and immune response.
Understanding Kennel Cough in Dogs: Signs, Prevention, and Treatment

Are Certain Breeds More Prone to Kennel Cough?

While any dog can contract kennel cough, certain breeds can develop more severe clinical signs due to their anatomical characteristics. Dogs with short or flat noses (such as French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers) have a higher risk of developing symptoms from kennel cough infections due to the anatomical makeup of their nose and airways.

More recent outbreaks- Canine Influenza:

In recent years, canine influenza (CIV), commonly known as the dog flu, has emerged as another viral component of kennel cough.  There are two common subtypes of the Canine influenza virus: H3N8 and H3N2. Similar to other viruses that contribute to the infectious respiratory disease complex, CIV spreads easily among dogs through respiratory secretions and contaminated objects. The symptoms of canine influenza are similar to kennel cough, including coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and lethargy.

Vaccines are available for both H3N8 and H3N2 strains of canine influenza. Dogs that have regular contact with other dogs, such as those attending daycare, boarding facilities, dog parks, dog shows, or any situation where contact with other dogs occur, may benefit from the addition of CIV vaccination to their preventive care regimen.

What to Do if Your Dog Gets Kennel Cough

If your dog has symptoms of kennel cough, please consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarians can examine and determine what is causing your dog’s symptoms. Your veterinarian may run additional tests to assist in the diagnosis and determine the best and most appropriate treatment for your dog. Mild cases of kennel cough may resolve on their own, but in most instances, treatment can help with both the discomfort and with helping to shorten the duration and/or spread.

Treatment may include cough suppressants, antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections, and, in severe cases, hospitalization and supportive care.