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Kennel Cough Symptoms and Treatment

Treating This Common Dog Ailment

By January 24, 2014 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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A Young Pup Laying On His Paw In A Kennel

Although kennel cough is highly contagious and is easily spread from dog to dog, it's usually not serious. Find out how to spot the symptoms and get your dog back to feeling better.

Kennel cough (infectious tracheobronchitis) is a highly contagious, acute upper respiratory disease that can be caused by both bacterial and viral pathogens. It occurs primarily in young dogs or puppies, but is a relatively common disease. Kennel cough gets its name from the populated kennel or shelter conditions that are ideal to it spreading from dog to dog.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough

  • Dry, hacking cough; wet, gurgling coughs can be signs of more serious infections
  • Cough may produce a “honking” sound
  • Retching with a white, foamy discharge; this can worsen after exercise
  • Snorting
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Conjunctivitis or pink eye

Kennel cough specifically targets the upper respiratory system, so if your dog exhibits other symptoms like decreased appetite, breathing problems, or fever, go to the vet immediately. A mild case of kennel cough will not affect your dog’s energy levels or appetite.

Preventing Kennel Cough

The virus can spread through the air and through contaminated objects. Because it doesn’t require direct contact to infect, it is difficult to prevent except through isolation. If your dog goes to a day care or boarding, look for good ventilation and strict disinfection practices.

Vaccinations are generally recommended only for high risk cases because of the risk of side effects and the complex nature of kennel cough strains. But some boarding houses and doggie day cares require vaccinations against two of the causes of kennel cough: parainfluenza and bordetella.

Treatment for Kennel Cough

In its mild form, kennel cough can be compared to the common cold in humans. Most cases of kennel cough clear up on their own within three weeks, with symptoms improving in a week. However, dogs can remain contagious even after symptoms clear.

You can help keep your dog comfortable while they recover by keeping them warm, using a humidifier to help breathing, and making sure they get plenty of fluids. If your dog’s collar seems to be irritating their neck on walks, consider switching to a harness for the duration of the healing process. Honey is safe for dogs in small doses and a natural remedy that can help soothe the irritated lining of the throat.

For young or elderly dogs or pets with autoimmune disorders, the disease can cause serious complications. See your vet if the cough doesn’t clear up on its own. Diagnosis of kennel cough is primarily made through considering the history of exposure to other dogs, but your vet may want to take urine or blood samples to rule out other illnesses.

Your vet might recommend an anti-inflammatory to alleviate coughing and lessen mucus secretions. A cough suppressant may also be prescribed. Severe cases of kennel cough can progress into pneumonia. If your dog is showing potential symptoms of pneumonia—fever, severe respiratory distress, or lack of appetite—an antibiotic course will probably be recommended.

More on Respiratory Health

Your Puppy Vaccination Schedule
9 Sick Dog Symptoms to Watch Out For
7 Popular Vet Meds Pet Parents Should Know About

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Kennel Cough at a glance

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  • 1A highly contagious upper respiratory infection for dogs
  • 2Symptoms include a “honking,” dry cough and mucus discharge
  • 3Mild cases clear up on their own in a few weeks
  • 4See a vet for fever, loss of appetite, or breathing problems
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