HOW TO Treat Your Dog’s Kennel Cough

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sleeping golden retriever puppyKennel cough – also called infectious tracheobronchitis – is an extremely contagious upper respiratory tract infection that is similar to chest colds in humans. A mixture of bacterial and viral infections, kennel cough irritates a dog’s voice box and windpipe.

According to Mike Richards, DVM, on, 80 to 90 percent of kennel cough cases are associated with a bacterial infection caused by the organism Bordetella bronchiseptica. The remaining cases are caused by other, mostly viral, infectious agents.

While mild cases may not require treatment and can clear up on their own, more serious cases can develop into pneumonia.

What Causes Kennel Cough?

Many dogs in shelters develop kennel cough due to their close, warm quarters with poor air circulation. Young and unvaccinated dogs are also at higher risk, reports ASPCA.

Kennel cough is generally not contagious to humans, according to, although the Bordetella bacteria is closely related to Bordetella pertussis, which causes whooping cough. People with suppressed immune systems could potentially be infected with Bordetella.

What are the Symptoms of Kennel Cough?

According to ASPCA, the most common symptom is a persistent, hacking cough that sounds as if your dog is gagging on something stuck in his throat. Aside from the cough, your dog should appear to be healthy, with normal appetite and activity levels.

It is not unusual for dogs with kennel cough to gag and hack up white, foamy phlegm. This can occur after exercise or if your dog is excited or pulling on his collar.

In more serious cases, dogs may have a fever and nasal discharge.

Kennel cough usually clears up within three weeks. It can last six weeks or longer in puppies, older dogs or dogs with weakened immune systems. Be aware that in some cases your dog can still be contagious even though he’s no longer coughing.

How is Kennel Cough Treated?

If you think your dog has kennel cough, keep him separated from other dogs. If your dog has a nasal discharge, is breathing rapidly, has no appetite or seems lethargic, you should take him to the veterinarian immediately.

To help alleviate your dog’s coughing, you can try the following tips recommended by ASPCA:

  Let your dog stay in the bathroom with you when you take a shower. The steam will help soothe his breathing passages. You can also try using a humidifier or vaporizer.

  Avoid exposing your dog to cigarette smoke or other noxious fumes.

  If your dog pulls against his collar when you take him for walks, replace it with a harness.

  Monitor your dog to make sure he’s eating and drinking, and try to make his environment as stress free as possible.

For more severe cases, your vet may prescribe a cough suppressant or antibiotic, although Richards writes that treatment with antibiotics may lead to resistance problems and difficulty treating pneumonia, if it develops. “So many dogs are very uncomfortable due to the severity of the cough that I think most vets do use antibiotics to treat this,” Richards writes.

While many antibiotics do work for kennel cough, he feels they may not be necessary for treatment. “Use of a cough suppressant can make the dog a lot more comfortable, whether antibiotics are used or not,” he writes. He does say antibiotics may be necessary for stubborn infections, or to stop the spread of bacteria in households with multiple dogs.

The most commonly prescribed antibiotics for kennel cough are are doxycycline or trimethoprim-sulfa, according to

You can also give your dog Reishi with Green Tea. It strengthens the respiratory system and is know to have a healing effect on the lungs. Reishi with Green Tea can also relieve coughs and other respiratory issues.

If your dog shows no improvement after a week or so, he should be re-examined. The vet may take X-rays of his chest to check for pneumonia, a collapsing trachea or canine influenza, a rare condition that starts with symptoms similar to kennel cough.

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Kennel Cough?

Vaccinations are available for elements of kennel cough including parainfluenza, Bordetella and adenovirus type 2. Note that vaccinations aren’t useful if your dog is already sick from the virus.

Vaccines are available by injection or through a nasal spray. suggests that an injection may be preferable for aggressive dogs that may bite if their muzzle is touched. The nasal spray can be administered to puppies as young as three weeks old. “The advantage here is that the local immunity is stimulated, right at the site where the natural infection would be trying to take hold,” writes.

Immunity to kennel cough only lasts about six to 12 months in most dogs, even after a dog has had the illness, according to Dr. Richards. He says that in a high-risk situation, it would be a good idea to vaccinate twice a year for this infection. Otherwise, it should be sufficient to vaccinate your dog annually, or even only when it is likely to be necessary, such as when you are going to border him at a kennel or take him to an event with many dogs present.

You should make sure your dog is vaccinated at least five days before boarding him so his immunity to kennel cough has sufficient time to be boosted.

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

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Laura Goldman

Laura Goldman is senior social media writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. She does love dogs. And elephants and turtles. Along with writing about the loves of her life, Laura likes to play with her two pound pups and tell anyone who'll listen just how awesome Pit Bulls are.

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