Help! My Dog Has Kennel Cough

Updated June 6, 2021

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Essential Facts

What Is Kennel Cough?

  1. A persistent infection of the throat with a bacteria and a virus.
  2. Causes a dry, repetitive, choking cough and fever.
  3. Mild cases often have sneezing, runny eyes and noses.
  4. Highly contagious wherever dogs meet. Incubation is usually 7 days.

Now dive deeper.

Recently we saw a 9 week old puppy who came from the breeder 7 days earlier. The day before we saw her she had started coughing, and by that night it had become very bad. Being a Boxer puppy, she wasn’t letting it get her down but you could see she wasn’t her normal self.

She has kennel cough. She hasn’t been around other dogs so where did she get it from?

Six things you should know about kennel cough:

  • It’s extremely common.
  • It’s not a trivial disease like the common cold.
  • It’s highly contagious.
  • It has a long incubation period.
  • Most dogs don’t get it from kennels.
  • Dog breeders usually don’t vaccinate against it.

I’ll explain each point in turn.

How common is kennel cough?

It’s everywhere. Every large shelter probably has it all the time and it goes through kennels regularly. It’s certainly the most common infectious disease of dogs that we see. That’s why any good dog kennel will insist on your dog having a C5 vaccination, which includes protection for the common strains.

What does kennel cough look like?

Kennel cough is the canine equivalent of whooping cough, Watch the video, which shows a typical case. Most dogs have a dry, honking cough which they can’t stop. Dogs with kennel cough are also usually miserable.

It’s actually quite hard (even for vets) to tell the different coughs apart. For example, something stuck in a dog’s throat or a collapsing trachea look much the same. Visit this page for other causes of coughing in dogs.

How contagious is kennel cough?

The. Most. Contagious. Disease. I. Know. Anywhere.

Dogs who never go out get it in their yard from passing dogs. Dogs found roaming and taken to the pound for one hour get it every time. It spreads in airconditioning systems. We have a spare consulting room just for kennel cough.

How long is the incubation period?

Typically seven days, give or take a few. That’s far longer than most other infectious diseases so people have often forgotten the source by the time it happens.

Where does kennel cough come from?

Duh. Kennels stupid! Actually this is not true. The name causes a lot of problems with people thinking it only comes from kennels. Number one place to catch kennel cough is … the dog park. Number two is probably places like training classes, dog groomers and cafes but most dog owners can’t really say where it came from.

Why don’t breeders vaccinate puppies for kennel cough?

I truly do not know. I think it’s probably just their culture, but to be fair it does add costs and some vets may not agree. Breeders do get a C3 vaccination done, but I wish they would move to an early C5 using an intranasal vaccine. I’m sure new owners would be happy to pay a little extra.

Similarly, I do not know how many dog grooming salons ask for proof of vaccination. If yours asks, don’t be offended. By doing this, they are protecting all the dogs that visit them.

So how do we prevent and treat kennel cough?

C5 Vaccination includes the two most common strains caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica and Parainfluenza virus. While not always 100% effective, the vaccine usually protects dogs, and if they do get the disease, it’s typically very mild.

If your dog gets kennel cough, treatment includes antibiotics, antiinflammatories and cough suppressants. The choice will depend on your dog’s specific problems. Of course it’s also essential to stay away from other dogs, especially the young and old, as they can get very sick. Most dogs recover within a week but some can remain sick for months. In extreme cases pneumonia and death can occur.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

7 Replies to “Help! My Dog Has Kennel Cough”

  1. My dog has been vaccinated against kennel cough but he returned from. a recent stay at the kennels, sneezing, snorting,, reverse sneezing., clear bilateral nasal discharge. It’s been 5 days since I picked him up and he seems no better. Could he have kennel cough?
    What should I do?

    1. Hi Jean. Kennel cough vaccination is a bit like Covid vaccination – it often just reduces the symptoms rather than stops infection completely. Therefore, your dog probably does have kennel cough and it’s best to check up with the vet.

  2. If your dog is diagnosed with kennel cough, do you need to watch them 24/7? E.g. not attend work etc?

    1. Hi Jess. There are no rules; it depends on their level of illness. Some milder cases can safely be left, others need watching, especially puppies and seniors.

  3. I live in Whyalla. 3 dogs I know which attend the dog park have contracted kennel cough. I have 4 dogs. We attend the dog park daily, dog obedience twice a week and they all have recently been groomed. It is very difficult to separate my dogs at home but for how long should I isolate them from the community? They all have had the C5 vaccination. Thanks.

    1. Hi Helen. We are seeing the same phenomenon right now in Adelaide. It doesn’t appear to be the same disease that we are vaccinating against, hence it occurring in your dogs. It also doesn’t appear to be as severe or last as long. Most dogs’ symptoms subside within 3 to 5 days. Once a dog stops coughing they should be able to be reunited.

Comments are closed.