Kennel Cough – causes, symptoms, treatment

What is kennel cough and how do I know if my dog has it?

Kennel cough or (acute) canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a common, infectious upper respiratory disease seen in dogs. It is not usually a serious disease in most otherwise healthy dogs. However, it is very contagious and will spread rapidly among a population of dogs.
It is like the ‘common’ cold in people but is confined to dogs.

Clinical signs may include:

  • A harsh high pitched cough, often described as something “stuck in the dog’s throat” or a “goose honk”.
  • loss of appetite
  • lack of energy
  • retching or hacking (your dog may appear to be retching and swallowing and the cough may be productive, often with the production of foamy mucus (which may be confused with vomiting).
  • nasal/eye discharge.

Bouts of coughing can last up to several weeks in some cases and may require veterinary intervention.

Kennel cough is transmitted through dog-to-dog contact by sniffing and coughing, sharing of food and water bowls, and toys. Discharges from an infected dog spread disease-causing organisms into the environment. The time from exposure to coughing starting can be 2 to 14 days. Dogs in kennels, doggie day-care, training classes, group dog walks or those that spend time at parks and beaches where dogs socialise may have an increased risk of exposure.

An uncomplicated case of kennel cough runs a course of a week or two with frequent episodes of coughing, often made worse by barking, exercise or excitement. Most dogs maintain normal energy levels and appetite. Complicated cases may become lethargic, have reduced or loss of appetite and develop a fever. If you are concerned about your dog, you should seek advice from Otaki vet.

What causes kennel cough?

Kennel cough is multifactorial, meaning it can be caused by a combination of viruses and bacteria. Environmental factors such as stress, dust and changes in humidity often contribute to spread of disease and the severity of symptoms.

What to do if your dog has kennel cough?

If your dog has clinical signs of canine cough, keep him or her at home and call Otaki vet for advice. If your dog does not seem unwell other than the cough, he or she may not need any treatment other than rest.

You must keep your dog at home until the cough has completely resolved, which is usually about a week in uncomplicated cases. Only take your dog out again a week after coughing has ceased, for regular activities. Infected dogs can remain contagious and continue to spread infectious organisms for extended periods of time after recovery from the infection.

Be aware that barking may trigger coughing, so keeping your dog quiet and rested where possible may help reduce coughing bouts. Offering soft food instead of dry biscuits may help encourage your dog’s appetite and reduce throat irritation when swallowing. If your dog normally wears a collar, removing it may help to prevent further irritation to their throat.

Antibiotics may be required if your dog has signs of bacterial infection such as a fever, a reduction in appetite or a drop in energy levels but are not typically prescribed in most cases. Some treatment may be required for the cough, especially where the dog has other conditions, such as heart disease).

If a visit to your veterinarian is required, follow their instructions as measures will be required to keep other dogs safe and reduce the risk of transmission. This may include waiting in the vehicle and being treated there instead of inside the clinic. This ensures the appropriate hygiene and infection prevention measures can be used to keep other dogs safe, if your dog does have kennel cough.


It is important that your dog’s kennel cough vaccinations are kept up to date. Vaccination provides protection against many of the more common or serious bacteria and viruses that cause kennel cough but does not protect against every agent that can contribute to the disease. Vaccination plays a significant role in preventing disease, reducing the severity of the symptoms, and reducing the spread of disease.

Kennel cough is not a zoonotic disease (it is not transmitted from animals to humans).