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Everything You Need to Know About Kennel Cough
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Everything You Need to Know About Kennel Cough

When a dog opens their mouth and emits the loud, hacking cough that’s commonly associated with kennel cough, their pet parent’s concern is understandable. Fortunately, however, the illness is relatively common and treatable. 

So if your dog starts coughing, don’t despair, but do call your vet.  

What is Kennel Cough in Dogs?

Think of kennel cough as a cold your dog can catch. While it’s highly contagious and its symptoms can be a nuisance, it is rarely fatal. Like the common cold in humans, kennel cough—also known as canine infectious respiratory disease or CIRD—can be caused by a range of different viruses and bacteria.

The most common culprit of this illness is the Bordetella bacterium. It’s so common, in fact, that some people even use Bordetella as a synonym for kennel cough in puppies and dogs. Other causes include canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus, canine respiratory coronavirus and mycoplasmas.

Kennel cough behaves similarly to the common cold in that it typically causes inflammation in the trachea and bronchial tubes, which yields its signature symptom. 

What are the Signs of Kennel Cough?

The most common and noticeable kennel cough symptom is a persistent and forceful cough that sounds like a honking goose. In a dog who has kennel cough, all that loud coughing is hard to miss. 

For most dogs, the cough is the primary symptom, and your pup may show no other signs of the illness. Other symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy 
  • Low fever

Even if your dog only has a cough, you should still schedule a visit with the vet since many of the symptoms of kennel cough are also symptoms of much more serious diseases, including canine influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia. While Canine influenza can cause similar symptoms, it is a separate disease, and not considered a cause of kennel cough.

How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

To inhale kennel cough-causing germs and get sick themselves, your dog just has to come into close contact with an infected dog. This can happen when dogs touch each other, share food and water bowls or contact infected surfaces.

As its name implies, kennel cough can spread rapidly in places where dogs congregate such as kennels, doggie daycare, dog parks, dog shows and more. The average kennel cough incubation period is typically two to 14 days, so if you notice your dog coughing in the days or weeks after coming home from daycare or a group training class, your pet may have a case of kennel cough. 

Is Kennel Cough Dangerous?

It may feel like the walls are rattling when your dog begins hacking with kennel cough sounds, but most cases are mild and easily treatable. In rare instances, however, kennel cough can worsen into pneumonia, which can require hospitalization and could be life-threatening.

Puppies 6 months old and younger are at a greater risk of experiencing more severe symptoms since their immune systems are still developing. For this reason, younger dogs should be kept away from large canine gatherings until they are older or have received a kennel cough vaccine. Older dogs and dogs with compromised immune systems may also suffer more severe symptoms of kennel cough.

Can Kennel Cough Spread to Humans?

There isn’t much evidence to suggest humans can catch kennel cough from dogs. It can sometimes be difficult to tell where an illness came from, however, since humans can also become infected with Bordetella bacteria. The chances of getting kennel cough from your dog are extremely low to nonexistent, but it’s a good idea to keep young children and anyone with a compromised immune system away from infected dogs as a precaution. 

What is the Best Kennel Cough Treatment?

Do you suspect your dog has kennel cough? Even if your dog seems otherwise normal and well apart from the cough, a veterinary visit is advisable since a different or more severe illness could be causing the cough.

Your vet may diagnose kennel cough solely by your dog’s symptoms and their history around other dogs. They may also choose to perform blood chemistry tests, chest X-rays or respiratory fluid examinations.

If the diagnosis is positive, your vet may suggest several different kennel cough treatments. In mild cases where your dog is alert, energetic and eating well, the recommendation may be home care and rest.

Your vet may also choose to give your dog antibiotics for kennel cough. Antibiotics are generally used when the cause of the kennel cough is known to be bacterial in nature and  to treat or prevent secondary infections. 

Finally, a vet may suggest kennel cough medicine such as cough-suppressant syrup to ease your dog’s cough and soothe their throat. Only use cough medicine designed for dogs and prescribed by your veterinarian. Take a look at the Petco Pharmacy to find out more. 

How to Prevent Kennel Cough in Dogs

Unless your dog lives in a complete bubble, they will almost surely come into contact with other canines, which can put them at risk of contracting kennel cough. The most common way to prevent the condition is through a kennel cough vaccine. 

A vaccine that works against Bordetella bacterium—the most common cause of kennel cough—exists and is widely administered. The vaccine can be administered in an oral, intranasal or injectable form. Your vet may also suggest vaccines against canine parainfluenza and canine adenovirus. 

Keep in mind that while a kennel cough vaccine can work against the most common causes of this disease, it can’t fight every possible pathogen. Even with these vaccines, your dog may still develop kennel cough. 

If you regularly bring your dog to doggie daycare, plan to board them or place them in group training, it’s a good idea to get them vaccinated beforehand. Many facilities require proof of vaccination before they’ll accept your dog. Call ahead to any facilities or businesses if you aren’t sure about their vaccine policies.

The kennel cough vaccine also doesn’t last forever. You’ll need to schedule a vet appointment to have the vaccine readministered every six to 12 months.  

Are There Any Kennel Cough Vaccine Side Effects?

A vaccine is a small dose of the virus intended to train the immune system to fight against the actual disease in the real world. Like how humans may feel flu-like symptoms after getting a flu shot, dogs who receive the kennel cough vaccine may experience mild symptoms of kennel cough, including coughing, sneezing or discharge, in the days following the vaccine. They may also have soreness at the injection site or be a little tired for a few days.

Serious side effects of the vaccine are rare. That being said, you should not request a vaccine if your dog already has symptoms of kennel cough, is taking an antibiotic or has a compromised immune system. 

How to Care for a Dog with Kennel Cough

Is your poor pooch suffering from kennel cough? Your first step should be to schedule a vet appointment to confirm the diagnosis. Your veterinarian will recommend the right kennel cough medicine for your dog, whether that includes an antibiotic, cough syrup or just home rest.

When your dog is home, try to isolate them from the rest of the family, especially if your household includes young children or anyone with a compromised immune system. If you have other dogs in the home, they likely also have kennel cough and should be treated accordingly. 

Do not allow your diagnosed dog or any other dogs in your home to interact with any pets outside your household. Avoid dog parks, doggie daycare and the groomers.

Encourage your dog to rest and make sure they get lots of fluids and adequate portions  of high-quality nutrition. Other than that, keep an eye on your pup’s kennel cough symptoms and let your vet know if they worsen. 

Kennel cough usually lasts just a few days, but it can take weeks to fully resolve in more severe cases. A good rule of thumb is to wait a full week after all symptoms are gone before assuming your dog is no longer contagious. 

When your dog has fully recovered, you might want to congratulate them with a new toy or treat. Take a look at Petco’s lineup of dog products

What if My Dog Was Exposed to Kennel Cough?

You may hear a dog coughing loudly at the dog park or get a call from your dog’s daycare or trainer to let you know a pet in their care has been diagnosed with kennel cough. In these cases, it’s safe to assume your dog was exposed.

If your dog isn’t vaccinated, do your best to isolate them from canines outside your residence for two weeks. By this time, signs of kennel cough should be present if your dog has the illness. It’s never a bad idea to schedule a vet appointment and request a test for kennel cough. 

Remember that while kennel cough is simply an inconvenience for many dogs, it can turn serious in a small number of canines. Pet parents are advised to take kennel cough seriously and seek out veterinary services if they suspect their dog might have this common affliction. 

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