What Is Kennel Cough: FAQs & Treatment 

Four Minutes
Oct 31, 2022

Kennel cough – formally known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis or bordetella — is an infectious respiratory disease that spreads quickly in overcrowded conditions.³ As the name suggests, this infection is common in dog kennels. This infection takes advantage of poor ventilation in boarding facilities, travels through direct contact, and lives on surfaces. Just like humans catch airborne illnesses, dogs can catch kennel cough when they inhale bacteria into their respiratory tract.

Rest easy, pet parents. Cases of kennel cough are usually mild and treatable. Here is everything you should know about this infectious disease.

What Causes Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is caused by several different bacteria and viruses that can infect a dog’s upper respiratory tract.⁴ There are several bacteria that can cause kennel cough in dogs, but Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common — this bacteria thrives in high-temperature, stressful environments like dog kennels.⁴ Even in the best-kept facilities, bacteria often finds a way to spread when dogs touch fellow canines’ noses, water bowls, or even toys.  

Kennel Cough Symptoms

Luckily, most cases of kennel cough are mild, which makes the symptoms of the disease manageable. Severe infections usually occur in young puppies and senior dogs. Immunocompromised dogs tend to also be more susceptible to severe cases. The symptoms of kennel cough include:

  • A strong, hacking cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • A low fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Phlegm in their cough

Pet parents should consult their veterinarian immediately to determine if something more serious is going on. Many other viruses and diseases have similar symptoms, such as collapsing trachea, bronchitis, asthma, or heart disease.

Kennel cough sound

The hallmark of kennel cough is a dry, hacking sound. It will sound like your dog is trying to throw up or is choking. Usually, dogs cough when they are moving, playing, or overly excited.

A sudden onset of coughing like this may cause pet parents to panic, but it may sound scarier than it actually is. When you hear your dog coughing, it is important to call your vet while keeping an eye out for other symptoms. For example, wheezing or refusing to eat are signs of a severe infection. Otherwise, if your dog is eating and drinking normally, they will likely recover from kennel cough without medical treatment.

Kennel Cough Treatment

If your dog has that distinctive hacking sound, you’re going to need to know how to treat kennel cough. The type of treatment your dog needs will depend on if they have a mild or more serious case.

Treatment for mild cases of kennel cough

If your dog has that distinctive hacking sound, you’re going to need to know how to treat kennel cough. Luckily, most mild cases resolve after a week or two of rest for your dog. During this time, it’s important to keep your dog away from dog parks, doggie daycare, and boarding facilities in order to help prevent kennel cough from spreading to other dogs. Avoiding high-activity areas will also encourage them to rest.

Make sure you ask your vet whether or not it’s appropriate for your dog to go on isolated walks. They may recommend only letting the dog out in your backyard or a patch of grass in a less-trafficked area. If you do get the clear to take your dog for a walk, consider using a harness to avoid further irritating your dog’s trachea.

Treatment for more severe cases of kennel cough

If your dog’s case is more serious, your vet may need to take X-rays of your dog’s chest to rule out other diseases, like lung cancer. If your dog is really struggling, your vet may prescribe medications like anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, or cough suppressants.³,

Trying to keep your dog in an area with a humidifier can also help minimize the coughing.

How to Prevent Kennel Cough

Prevention is the best method to avoid kennel cough — most pet parents know there are vaccinations available to prevent kennel cough. Be sure to ask your vet about the vaccines for the most common causes of kennel cough: distemper, parainfluenza, canine adenovirus-2, and bordetella bronchiseptica.⁴ They are available in many forms to meet your dog’s needs including oral, injections, or intranasal mists.³,⁴   

If you have multiple pets, keep your sick dog away from the others and clean the areas they frequent to reduce the risk of other animals contracting the condition.

How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?

Your dog's immune system determines how long a kennel cough is contagious. Most dogs stop coughing after one week and fully recover from kennel cough within 3 weeks.⁴ Dogs with lowered immune systems (e.g., dogs with cancer) or senior dogs may take up to 6 weeks to fully recover. Kennel cough can cause pneumonia so it’s crucial to monitor your pup as they’re recovering.

Is Kennel Cough Contagious to Humans?

Yes, humans can catch kennel cough from their dogs, but it is quite rare. Sadly, humans who contract bordetella are immunocompromised by diseases like HIV.⁵

The best way to minimize dog-to-human germ swapping is basic hygiene! Be extra careful when your pet is ill by cleaning common areas with pet-safe disinfectants. Wash your hands after handling their food bowls and toys and picking up feces.

Need Kennel Cough Medicine? Dog Insurance May Cover It!

Kennel cough is a treatable disease that most dogs recover from on their own, but in rare cases it can turn deadly. Untreated severe cases of kennel cough can lead to pneumonia, which can hospitalize your dog, potentially costing you heartache and thousands of dollars. Luckily, there are treatments and vaccinations for kennel cough, and a dog insurance policy can help cover your kennel cough costs.²

At MetLife Pet Insurance, winner of the “Pet Insurance of the Year” Award, we’re committed to helping you keep your pets happy and healthy, whether that means learning all there is to know about your pets or protecting them with an insurance policy.¹ We are here to help you care for pets when they become ill.

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¹ Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

² Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

³ “Kennel Cough in Dogs,” American Kennel Club

⁴ “Tracheobronchitis (Bronchitis) in Dogs,” Merck Veterinary Manual

“Bordetella bronchiseptica pneumonia in a man with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: a case report,” Journal of Medical Case Reports

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