Kennel Cough – Nothing But A Cold….

Kennel cough.  Most of us have dealt with it at one time or another while others of us have no earthly idea just what it is exactly.  For those of us who have been there and done that, we realize that kennel cough is simply a cold – just like we get.  Generally it runs its course and is over, sometimes in a matter of a day or two though more usually in about a week.  For someone who has never dealt with it or heard of it, it can be a scary thing.

Perhaps first a definition…..

Young puppies – especially rescues like this one saved from a dog pound – are often most susceptible to kennel cough

“‘Kennel cough’ is an infectious bronchitis characterized by a harsh, hacking cough which most people describe as sounding like “something stuck in my dog’s throat.” It is analogous to a chest cold for humans and is only a serious condition in special circumstances (see below); in general, it resolves on its own. A dog with Kennel Cough generally feels active and maintains a normal appetite despite frequent fits of coughing. There is usually no fever or listlessness, just lots of coughing.” (

Kennel cough is also referred to as Bordatella as it comes mainly from the Bordatella bronchiseptica virus.  Many people will have been counseled by their vets to get their dogs a Bordatella vaccine or have had it required before their dog can enter into a boarding facility.  Its all the same sickness and, essentially, a common cold.  Yup, dogs get em too, just like we do.

Its an airborne illness which is part of the reason why it spreads so readily and easily.  Add to that the fact that a seemingly perfectly healthy dog can shed the virus for up to three months and you can see how even the most stringent precautions can result in a case of the cough.  Essentially, a dog coughs and the virus becomes airborne and ripe for inhalation by another canine.  Happens just like that.  Some dogs are more prone than others.  Puppies, who by their nature have somewhat underdeveloped immune systems, are quite susceptible as are older animals.  Any dog with a compromised immune system can be more likely to contract it as well (though perfectly healthy dogs get it all the time).  Puppies are usually on a vaccine schedule – vaccines themselves lower the immune system – therefore puppies who are in and out of the vet having vaccines given can run the highest risk of all along with any dog that has an immune compromised issue or illness (like cancers etc.).

What should you watch for?  First and foremost, kennel cough’s hallmark symptom is…well…a cough!  You may at first

Healthy animals with good immune systems, such as this raw fed husky, are most likely to be the least affected by kennel cough

think that perhaps your pet has something caught in their throat – it has that sort of quality to it.  Sometimes it can be a quiet “huffing” sort of noise but usually develops into more of a hacking sound often followed by a “gagging” noise.  You may even think that your dog is going to vomit but other than a puddle of phlegm, you rarely see anything at all.  The phlegm, while disgusting, actually means a productive cough which is a positive believe it or not!  That bit if phlegm and snottiness is yet another symptom.  Not all dogs will display it – some have such a mild case that a few coughs is all that you hear (these are the ones that likely remain undetected and you don’t even know your dog has had it!), but many dogs will have a slight runny nose along with, for lack of a better word, goobers.  Nothing to worry about, as stated above, a productive cough is actually a good cough.  Generally those are the only symptoms that you will see.  Some dogs can run a fever and generally be unwell – lack of appetite, listless, lethargic etc.  This generally doesn’t happen in most cases and most dogs remain active, eating and normal other than the cough.  Its not abnormal to have a dog cough only in the mornings or only in the evenings – it just depends on the dog.  Here is a link to a video showing a coughing dog

Above all, kennel cough is NORMAL.  Its not something that happens because you didn’t care for your dog properly.  In truth, if your dog contracts the illness it likely means that you are a GREAT pet owner – one who actually takes your dog out to socialize and see the world.  You do see more incidences of kennel cough in areas where dogs gather together – boarding facilities, doggy daycares, dog parks etc.  Again, this means you are socializing your pet and getting him out and about which is a GOOD THING!  Never believe otherwise.  You should no more isolate your dog to prevent kennel cough than you would isolate a child to prevent him from contracting the common cold.  Its nonsensical to do this.  There is a vaccine against it – but its not very long lasting and needs to be done pretty often.  Most boarding kennels that require it will also require that it has been done within the 6 months prior to your dog regardless of when your dog had it last.  It can prevent some strains but just like a cold, there are many strains out there.  Will it always prevent kennel cough from occurring?  Not likely.  Though anecdotal in nature, many dogs will contract a minor form of kennel cough upon vaccination and still more will contract the illness regardless of vaccination.  Just like any vaccine, there can be side effects and honestly, is it worth the risk for an illness that isn’t even close to being deadly?  Its for you, as an owner to decide.

So kennel cough happens.  Its a cold, its minor, often once they have it dogs don’t get it again.  Remember, if your dog starts to cough, keep him home.  Limit exposure to any other dogs until all dogs in your home have stopped coughing

Giving your dog vitamin C during times of exposure or during the illness can ensure that he bounces back quickly or perhaps doesn’t contract kennel cough at all

for a few days at least.  If due for vaccinations, wait until your dog is done with the illness giving a good week or two leeway between last symptom and the vet visit.  If your dog has kennel cough and is due for a surgery of some sort – postpone it.  Anything that depressed the immune system if done while a dog has active kennel cough, can lead to a more serious illness, pneumonia and in some cases death.  Dose your dog with immune boosting agents like vitamin C, fish oil, kelp and probiotics to help build back his immune system, get rid of the kennel cough more quickly and prevent any secondary bacterial infections.  If you notice green or yellow discharge from eyes or nose, its possible that your dog has succumbed to a secondary infection and in these cases a visit to the vet may be necessary for antibiotics.  In most cases this is not needed.

Follow some of these simple guidelines and your dogs kennel cough experience will be one that you both quickly forget.  Above all, be considerate of fellow dogs and their owners – keep your pup home and away from others for the duration and soon enough he’ll be ready to go back out and play again!