'My dog has a hacking cough like something is stuck in his throat'

That's the most common thing we hear from pet owners with dogs who have caught kennel cough.

Kennel cough isn't just a cough that dogs pick up in kennels. It's is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection that occurs in dogs all over the world. In fact, most dogs will experience symptoms of kennel cough at least once in their lifetime.

 
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What is kennel cough?

If we look at the medical name for kennel cough (infectious canine tracheobronchitis) we get a good idea of what it really is – a contagious infection that affects the trachea (windpipe) and bronchi (large airways) of dogs. Think of it like the dog equivalent of a human cold or flu.

And like cold and flu, kennel cough doesn't just have one cause. Several germs can cause symptoms of kennel cough. The most common ones include: parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, mycoplasma and adenovirus.

These germs can be everywhere, but are concentrated in areas where there are lots of dogs (eg boarding kennels, dog shows, popular dog parks).

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What are the symptoms?

Symptoms develop 3–7 days after exposure to the causative germs.

The main symptoms are:

  • a hacking cough
  • retching or gagging
  • a runny nose

Most dogs appear otherwise well, with normal activity levels and appetite. Some will prefer softer foods while their throats are sore.

It often starts with your dog making noises like he's trying to clear his throat. This can include a retching sound and he might bring up some fluid (phlegm or spit).

Over a day or so, this usually progresses to bouts of a hacking cough. Some dogs will cough so forcefully they can vomit (some people do this too!)

The first few days are the worst. The cough will often be triggered by things like barking, pulling on the lead, getting excited or going out in cold air.

Symptoms generally resolve over about 7–10 days.

To prevent spread, try to keep your dog isolated from other dogs while he has active symptoms.

 

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Who gets kennel cough?

Every dog can get kennel cough – even vaccinated dogs. This doesn't mean that the vaccine doesn't work (although remember no human or animal vaccine is 100% effective). We just don't have a vaccine for every cause of kennel cough.

We can vaccinate against two of the most common causes: parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. By vaccinating:

  • we reduce your dog's risk of getting kennel cough
  • we often find any symptoms your dog gets are quite mild
  • we can reduce the prevalence of these germs in the environment

Like colds and flu in people, the young and the old are at increased risk of complications. The immune systems of puppies and older dogs are less able to halt the infection at the upper respiratory tract. They can develop pneumonia. 

Signs of pneumonia are loss of appetite, fever, lethargy and increased breathing effort. Let us know straight away if you see any of these.

While kennel cough doesn't usually spread to people or other types of pets, anyone with a compromised immune system might be at risk. 

 

How is kennel cough treated?

This depends on the severity of the infection.

If your dog is bright and happy and has minor symptoms, time and TLC should be all that's needed.

If your dog has more severe symptoms, we may prescribe medication to help with the inflammation of the throat, and sometimes for the cough itself.

Dogs with pneumonia will usually require more intensive care and often need to stay in hospital for intravenous fluids and medication. They may also need oxygen therapy.

After kennel cough does my dog still need vaccination?

The short answer is yes.

Kennel cough is caused by both viral and bacterial germs.

It's true that after a viral infection, your dog will have antibodies that protect him from that virus. But, we rarely know which virus your dog actually had and the immunity that develops appears to not be long lasting.

None of us develop long lasting immunity to bacterial infections. We can be infected by the same bacteria over and over again.

Yearly kennel cough boosters are recommended for all dogs.