Kennel cough - Symptoms, Treatment and Vaccine

Kennel cough - Symptoms, Treatment and Vaccine

Health & Safety

Most dog owners and canine enthusiasts have heard of kennel cough, and it is one of the most well known canine health conditions in the UK. Kennel cough used to be a very common condition that was prevalent across large parts of the country, but has thankfully become greatly reduced since the advent of the standard kennel cough vaccine for dogs became available. Due to this, the condition is much less prevalent than it used to be, and many dog owners will never have come into contact with a dog suffering from the condition, nor be aware of the signs, symptoms and risks connected with this illness.

Nevertheless, all dog owners should be aware of kennel cough and know how to spot a potential outbreak, plus have a good understanding of the steps that they can take to avoid their own dog contracting the condition. How much do you know about kennel cough? Could you identify an outbreak of kennel cough as opposed to a normal cough or cold? Read on to find out more!

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is an infection of the upper respiratory tract of the dog, and can be caused by a variety of different viruses and pathogens. Canine parainfluenza, adenovirus, coronavirus, distemper and some bacterial infections such as Bordetella bronchiseptica can all lead to a dog contracting the disease. Kennel cough is highly contagious, and will soon spread through a community of dogs kept in close quarters or that come into contact with each other when out on walks. Kennel cough in fact got its name by virtue of its prevalence and propensity to spread quickly between dogs housed in boarding kennels and dog shelters.

How is kennel cough transmitted?

Both viral and bacterial kennel cough is airborne, which is part of the reason why it is so highly contagious. The coughing and sneezing of affected dogs causes mucus and fluids containing the virus or bacteria to be diffused into the air, where they can be inhaled by other dogs. As with other types of viral and bacterial infections, the pathogen can sometimes survive outside of the body for long periods of time, meaning that toys, bowls and equipment that has come into contact with an affected dog can all harbour the condition, waiting to be picked up by an unsuspecting passing dog.

Can people catch kennel cough?

Surprisingly, kennel cough is one of the few canine conditions that can pass back and forth between humans and dogs; this is known as a zoonotic condition. People with a compromised immune system and young people whose immune system has not yet fully developed are most at risk of contracting the condition, but it is considered to be unusual and unlikely that the condition will affect healthy people, even after prolonged exposure to affected dogs.

The kennel cough vaccine

You can minimise the chances of your dog contracting kennel cough or becoming a carrier for the condition by having them vaccinated against the illness. The kennel cough vaccine is administered separately to the combined injectable vaccine given for other common conditions, and you may need to ask to have the kennel cough vaccine administered additionally, or check with your vet that this vaccination is performed as standard. The kennel cough vaccine usually takes the form of a nasal spray that produces a localised immunity within the cells of the nose to help to prevent the virus or bacteria from entering the lungs.

All reputable boarding kennels, dog shows, dog training classes and any other events where large groups of dogs will gather will insist that all dogs brought onto their site are vaccinated against the condition before attending.

Preventing kennel cough

The most effective way of preventing the contraction and transmission of kennel cough is of course to vaccinate your dog against the condition. Other steps you can take to minimise your dog’s exposure to the condition include:

  • Avoid compromising your dog’s immune system by ensuring that they stay fit and healthy, and avoid stress and exposure to extremes of temperature.
  • Make sure that your dog spends his time in a well ventilated environment, and try to minimise the contact that your dog has with a lot of other strange dogs in enclosed spaces.
  • Ensure that if you board your dog in a kennel or take them to any other event that will involve exposure to other large groups of dogs, that the organisation in question insists on vaccination for kennel cough for all dogs attending the premises.

Symptoms of kennel cough

Some of the symptoms of kennel cough to be on the lookout for include:

  • A persistent and very strong, forceful cough
  • A “reverse sneeze” sound, which is quite distinctive to a normal cough but does not present itself in all dogs
  • A dripping nose
  • Sore throat and inflammation of the throat
  • Kennel cough is often accompanied by sneezing
  • Inflamed and runny eyes may also accompany the condition
  • Loss of appetite and reduced energy levels
  • General lethargy and loss of interest in walking and the normal goings on of the household

Treating kennel cough

Kennel cough may go away on its own if your dog’s immune system is able to fight off the condition, although you should not automatically expect this to happen. Remember that the longer the condition persists for, the more compromised your dog’s immune system will become, and the worse it will affect your dog. Also, your dog will be carrying the condition and posing an infection risk to other dogs while suffering from the condition.

The veterinary treatment of kennel cough usually consists of medications to help to fight the condition, such as antibiotics to fight off the Bordetella bacteria. Cough suppressants and humidifiers may also be used to help to lessen the coughing itself, and so reduce the pain and inflammation that can accompany the cough.

The prognosis for dogs with kennel cough

Kennel cough can be serious in dogs with a compromised immune system, and careful monitoring of the condition is required to ensure that the infection does not progress to the lower respiratory tract and potentially cause pneumonia or other complications.

Generally though, the condition can be resolved within a few weeks, and most dogs make a full recovery from kennel cough. It is important to thoroughly disinfect any items that may have come into contact with a dog suffering from the condition, to avoid the condition being passed on to other dogs, which can sometimes happen a long time after the initial infection has been diagnosed and resolved.

Newsletter icon
Get free tips and resources delivered directly to your inbox.


Pets for StudWanted Pets

Accessories & services


Knowledge Hub


Support & Safety Portal
All Pets for Sale