August 02, 2016

Learn the Signs & Sounds of Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is usually mild and self-limiting, but sometimes it can cause more severe illness.
By Laurie Anne Walden, DVM, ELS
If you’ve had a dog with kennel cough, you’ve heard the sound: a dry hack often followed by retching or gagging. Some people describe it as sounding like a cat hacking up a hairball. Kennel cough is usually mild and self-limiting, but sometimes it causes more severe illness. 


Kennel cough is the common name for infectious tracheobronchitis, a bacterial or viral infection that produces inflammation of the airways (trachea and bronchi). It is spread through respiratory secretions, and dogs can be exposed either through sneezing or coughing or from contact with contaminated surfaces. Stress and poor hygiene can make dogs more susceptible to infection. Contact with any infected dog can lead to kennel cough, but dogs are most at risk when they are housed together in groups: 
  • Animal shelters
  • Boarding kennels
  • Dog day care facilities
  • Dog training facilities1,2,3


Most cases of kennel cough are not serious, although the cough can sound a bit alarming. Symptoms of mild kennel cough include the following:
  • Harsh, dry cough
  • Clear, watery discharge from the nose
  • Normal or slightly reduced appetite
  • Normal activity level 
The cough usually begins 5 to 10 days after exposure and can last up to 3 weeks.2 In some dogs, especially puppies and those with compromised immune systems, kennel cough progresses to a more severe form. Dogs with complicated kennel cough are at risk of pneumonia or even death. The complicated form produces the following symptoms related to secondary bacterial infection or lung involvement:
  • Moist, productive cough
  • Thick white or yellow discharge from the nose
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reduced activity level1,2

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