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Kennel Cough – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Updated: Jun 4

dogs waiting for owner at dog daycare kennel

As a devoted pet owner, you've likely experienced moments when your beloved canine companion suddenly erupts into a fit of coughing, resembling a bout of choking. Naturally, this can be a cause for concern, but fear not, for it's often a common occurrence known as Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis, or in simpler terms, an infection of the respiratory system.

The culprits behind this respiratory chest infection are typically bacteria and viruses, with these microscopic troublemakers taking aim at your dog's trachea and bronchi within the lungs. It's worth noting that a myriad of bacteria and viruses can potentially assail the lungs simultaneously. While we won't delve into the exhaustive list of these agents responsible for kennel cough, it's reassuring to know that in most cases, this ailment doesn't escalate into a severe condition.

Among the array of possible culprits, one bacterium often stands out as the common protagonist of kennel cough: Bordetella bronchiseptica. This ailment is frequently referred to as Bordetella infection, and it tends to make its appearance when dogs come into contact with other afflicted canines. The name "Kennel Cough" stems from its prevalence in kennel environments.

In scientific terms, this ailment is also designated as "canine infectious respiratory disease complex" due to the involvement of multiple pathogens, encompassing both bacteria and viruses, in causing the same infection. Remarkably, in many instances, the road to recovery for your furry friend doesn't necessitate extensive treatment; they often bounce back within a matter of weeks.

Join us as we embark on a journey to unravel the intricacies of kennel cough, gaining insights into its causes, symptoms, treatments, and preventive measures. By understanding this ailment better, you'll be better equipped to ensure the well-being of your four-legged family member.

Factors that may Cause Kennel Cough

Nature has ingeniously equipped our respiratory system with a highly effective defense mechanism. Within the intricate passages of the respiratory tract, a protective lining comprised of mucus and cilia acts as an impenetrable shield, preventing foreign invaders from wreaking havoc. However, this formidable natural defense isn't immune to vulnerabilities. Several factors can compromise this protective lining, rendering our respiratory system susceptible to invading pathogens. These contributing factors encompass:

  • Inadequate Ventilation: Poorly ventilated living spaces can hinder the natural flow of fresh air, creating an environment conducive to respiratory challenges.

  • Overcrowding: Crowded living conditions can exacerbate the risk of pathogen transmission, increasing the strain on the respiratory system.

  • Travel-Related Stress: The stress and fatigue associated with travel can weaken the body's defenses, making it more susceptible to respiratory issues.

  • Chilly Climates: Exposure to cold environments can compromise the body's ability to fend off respiratory threats, potentially leading to infections.

  • Airborne Particulates: The presence of dust, smoke, or other airborne particulates can irritate the respiratory tract, impairing its natural defenses.

Understanding how these factors can undermine our body's natural respiratory defenses is crucial for maintaining respiratory health and taking preventive measures when necessary.

dog coughing from kennel cough

How Can Your Dog Get Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough, as a highly contagious respiratory ailment, employs airborne transmission as its primary mode of contagion. This contagious nature means that your furry companion can easily contract the infection from other dogs, particularly in crowded spaces or social settings. Let's delve deeper into how dogs can contract kennel cough:

diagram showing the bordetella virus entering the dogs nose and getting stuck on the cilia in the throat, causing kennel cough
Photo credit: Semantic Scholar
  • Airborne Transmission: Kennel cough is primarily transmitted through the air. When an infected dog coughs or sneezes, tiny respiratory droplets containing the pathogen are released into the environment. Your dog can inhale these infectious droplets, thereby contracting the illness. In crowded or confined spaces, such as dog parks, grooming salons, or kennels, the risk of exposure is heightened.

  • Direct Contact: Kennel cough can also be spread through direct contact. Dogs are naturally curious creatures, and their inquisitive noses can lead them to sniff and investigate their surroundings. In doing so, they may come into close contact with surfaces contaminated by the pathogens. Additionally, sharing water bowls, toys, or bedding with an infected dog can facilitate the transmission of the disease.

dog shaking water off can be immune to kennel cough
  • Common Hotspots: Certain locations are more prone to kennel cough transmission due to their communal nature. Doggy daycare facilities, dog parks and boarding kennels often bring together numerous dogs in close proximity, creating an ideal environment for the rapid spread of kennel cough. It is therefore crucial to exercise caution and employ preventive measures when utilizing these services. Always inquire about the facility's cleaning and vaccination policies, ensuring they require the bordetella vaccine for all attending dogs.

While some dogs may possess immunity to kennel cough, a combination of factors, including those mentioned earlier, can trigger the pathogens to manifest in the form of a respiratory infection. In many instances, kennel cough does not manifest severe symptoms and tends to resolve within a few weeks. However, it's worth noting that in some cases, the cough can persist and become chronic, requiring more attentive medical management.

By grasping the mechanics of kennel cough transmission and embracing preventive measures, such as vaccinations and careful consideration of your dog's social environments, you can significantly reduce the risk of this ailment and ensure your canine companion's continued well-being.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Kennel Cough

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is characterized by its distinct and often unmistakable cough, frequently described as a "Goose Honk." This hallmark cough is a persistent and loud sound that can be quite concerning for dog owners. In many cases, dogs affected by kennel cough will exhibit frequent episodes of coughing, which can become more pronounced during activities such as exercise or daily routines. Interestingly, the act of rubbing your dog's chest can sometimes trigger these coughing spells. The pressure applied during chest rubs can irritate the already compromised respiratory tract, prompting your furry friend to cough.

dog coughing with kennel cough
Photo credit: All Creatures Vet Hospital

It's worth noting that kennel cough typically does not serve as the primary cause of other diseases or health issues in your dog. While it can certainly be an uncomfortable and bothersome condition on its own, it typically does not pave the way for opportunistic infections. Instead, dogs may develop opportunistic infections due to other underlying causes or factors, as discussed earlier.

Beyond the characteristic cough, kennel cough can manifest with a range of additional signs and symptoms, which may vary in severity among individual dogs. These can include:

  • Swollen Tonsils: Infection can lead to inflamed tonsils, contributing to discomfort and difficulty swallowing.

  • Runny Nose: Dogs with kennel cough may exhibit a discharge from their nose, which can be clear or mucopurulent (containing both mucus and pus).

  • Runny Eyes: Concurrently, some affected dogs may have watery or discharge-filled eyes, which can be a result of the respiratory infection.

  • Lack of Appetite: Dogs with kennel cough may experience a reduced appetite or even a temporary loss of interest in food due to discomfort.

  • Wheezing: Wheezing sounds or labored breathing can occur in more severe cases of kennel cough, often accompanied by a pronounced coughing fit.

  • Depressed Attitude: Dogs with kennel cough might exhibit a depressed or lethargic demeanor, reflecting the discomfort associated with the infection.

Understanding the range of symptoms associated with kennel cough is essential for promptly recognizing and addressing this condition. While it often resolves on its own within a few weeks, seeking veterinary care and guidance can help alleviate symptoms, prevent complications, and ensure your canine companion's comfort during the recovery process.

Treating Kennel Cough

When it comes to treating kennel cough in your beloved canine companion, the approach taken by your veterinarian hinges largely on the overall health and demeanor of your furry friend. Not all cases of kennel cough require medication, and the decision to prescribe treatment is based on several factors.

If your dog exhibits milder symptoms, maintains a relatively normal appetite, and seems generally content, your veterinarian may opt not to prescribe medication. Instead, they may recommend a course of action that focuses on rest, hydration, and providing your dog with the proper nutrition to support their recovery.

In these cases, the healing power of rest cannot be underestimated. Allowing your dog to recuperate by taking it easy can often be the most effective remedy. Ensuring they remain well-hydrated and providing them with a balanced and nourishing diet can go a long way in helping their immune system combat the infection.

dog with vet for kennel cough

However, in instances where kennel cough takes a more severe turn, and your dog experiences pronounced symptoms, such as persistent coughing and inflammation, medication may become necessary. Your veterinarian may prescribe medications to alleviate coughing and reduce inflammation, making your pet more comfortable during the recovery process.

Additionally, if there is a suspicion of a bacterial infection contributing to the condition, antibiotic drugs may be prescribed. These antibiotics are intended to target and combat the specific bacteria responsible for the infection, potentially shortening the duration of the illness and preventing complications.

It is imperative to exercise extreme caution if your dog has been diagnosed with kennel cough. To prevent the further spread of the disease, it is crucial to keep your infected dog away from other dogs. Avoid visits to dog parks, grooming salons, or any other public places where dogs congregate until your veterinarian confirms that your dog is no longer contagious.

Kennel cough is highly contagious and can easily be transmitted to other dogs through airborne particles or direct contact. As a responsible pet owner, it's your duty to help prevent the spread of the disease by keeping your infected dog isolated until they are fully recovered and no longer pose a risk to other dogs in the community.

In conclusion, the treatment and care of kennel cough are tailored to the specific needs and condition of your dog. While milder cases may be managed with rest, hydration, and proper nutrition, more severe instances may require medication to alleviate symptoms and target bacterial infections. Regardless of the severity, vigilant isolation of your infected dog is essential to protect the health of other dogs in your area. Public outings should be postponed until your veterinarian confirms that your pet is no longer contagious.

Preventing Kennel Cough

Ensuring the health and well-being of your beloved canine companion involves various aspects of care, including vaccinations to protect against contagious diseases. One such essential vaccination for dogs is the bordetella vaccine, especially if your furry friend frequently mingles with other dogs at grooming salons, dog parks, daycare facilities, or during boarding.

dog getting the bordetella vaccine via intranasal

The bordetella vaccine is a crucial defense mechanism designed to shield your dog from a highly contagious and airborne respiratory disease known as kennel cough. Kennel cough can swiftly spread in environments where dogs congregate, making it imperative for your pet's protection.

Once your dog has received the bordetella vaccine, you'll have the peace of mind to take them to places where they can interact with multiple dogs, confident in the knowledge that their health is safeguarded. However, it's essential to collaborate closely with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate vaccination schedule for your specific pet, as individual needs can vary.

In many cases, it is advisable to administer the bordetella vaccine every six months to ensure ongoing protection. This regularity helps to bolster your dog's immunity against kennel cough, particularly if they frequent high-traffic dog-friendly areas.

However, if you opt not to vaccinate your dog against kennel cough, a more cautious approach becomes necessary. Without vaccination, it is strongly recommended that you keep your dog away from densely populated dog environments. Kennel cough is a highly contagious airborne disease, and exposure can occur through mere proximity to infected dogs.

While avoiding such spaces might seem like the safest choice in the absence of vaccination, it's essential to understand that this option isn't necessarily ideal for your dog. Restricting their social interactions can lead to feelings of isolation and decreased mental stimulation, both of which can negatively impact their overall well-being.

In conclusion, when it comes to safeguarding your dog from the risks associated with kennel cough, prevention is key. Regular vaccination, as recommended by your veterinarian, is a proactive approach that allows your furry friend to enjoy the company of other dogs in various settings without unnecessary worry. If you choose not to vaccinate, diligent avoidance of crowded dog spaces becomes crucial, even though it may not provide the same level of enrichment and socialization that your dog deserves

Preventing Kennel Cough with Holistic Therapy

dogs at the park together high risk of kennel cough

Kennel cough, driven by stress and contagion, is a concern for pet owners who value the well-being of their canine companions. Interestingly, even when dogs are carriers of kennel cough pathogens, they may not necessarily display any symptoms if they are in overall good health. While we cannot entirely eliminate the risk of kennel cough, we can empower our dogs to better combat its signs and symptoms through holistic techniques, fostering their overall health and resilience.

Holistic therapy offers two valuable avenues of support: Acupressure and Red Light Therapy. Both of these holistic approaches are designed to mitigate stress, bolster the immune system, and alleviate anxiety, thus fortifying your pet's defenses against the effects of kennel cough.

Acupressure is rooted in the principles of acupuncture, wherein specific pressure points throughout the body are gently manipulated to sustain the flow of energy, often referred to as "qi," the life force. These strategically located pressure points are believed to preserve the balance of energy within the body, ultimately serving to enhance your dog's immune system. Acupressure serves as a complementary care option and can be seamlessly integrated with standard vaccinations.

dog receiving red light therapy to help overcome kennel cough

On the other hand, Red Light Therapy harnesses the power of light as a source of energy to maintain equilibrium within the body's energy systems. Both Acupressure and Red Light Therapy are holistic in nature, addressing the entirety of the body's energy matrix. These therapies empower the body's innate self-healing potential and are devoid of any adverse effects.

It's essential to bear in mind that prevention plays a pivotal role in ensuring the happiness and health of your cherished pets. Acupressure and Red Light Therapy can serve as invaluable tools in enhancing your pup's natural capacity to heal. Consistency is key; maintaining a routine schedule for these holistic sessions can further bolster your dog's resilience.

Moreover, we strongly advocate for the vaccination of your dog against kennel cough. While holistic therapies can provide holistic support, vaccines remain a fundamental preventative measure. By harmoniously combining these holistic techniques with conventional vaccinations, you can provide your dog with a comprehensive defense strategy against kennel cough, fostering their overall vitality and well-being.

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