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


As with the common cold in people, kennel cough can be caused by many different organisms. Mixed infections are likely, especially in dogs with complicated kennel cough. Some dogs are carriers who show no symptoms but can potentially infect other dogs.
The most common cause is Bordetella bronchiseptica. This bacterium is closely related to Bordetella pertussis, which causes whooping cough in humans.4 In one study, Bordetella was found in nearly 80% of dogs with symptoms of respiratory disease and in nearly half of healthy dogs with no symptoms.3 

Other bacteria and many viruses can also cause kennel cough or secondary infections associated with it. Some of the viruses involved include the following:
  • Canine parainfluenza virus
  • Canine adenovirus 2
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus 


Dogs with mild kennel cough may need nothing more than home care, including rest and good nutrition. Contact with other dogs should be limited to keep the disease from spreading.
Depending on the history and clinical signs, your veterinarian might recommend chest x-rays and bloodwork to evaluate the extent of the disease and rule out other causes of coughing. Your veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic effective against Bordetella or other bacterial infections. (Remember that antibiotics are not effective against viruses.) Cough suppressants are not routinely used, but your veterinarian may suggest one. However, do not give your dog a cough suppressant without consulting your veterinarian. Dogs with complicated kennel cough may require hospitalization. 


There are 2 ways to reduce the chance that your dog will get kennel cough: avoidance and vaccination. If you keep your dog away from other dogs by avoiding dog parks, boarding kennels, and so forth, the risk of transmission will naturally be lower.
Vaccination does not always prevent the disease entirely because so many different organisms can be involved, but it usually reduces the severity of symptoms. Vaccines against canine distemper virus and adenovirus 2 are core vaccines that the American Animal Hospital Association recommends for all dogs. Vaccines against Bordetella and canine parainfluenza virus are recommended for dogs that may be exposed to infection.5 Discuss your dog’s exposure risk and vaccine schedule with your veterinarian.


Contact your veterinarian if your dog has a persistent cough. A wide variety of conditions, too many to list in full here, can cause coughing:
  • Tracheal collapse
  • Reverse sneeze (not a true cough)
  • Respiratory irritants
  • Heartworm disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Other infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic)
  • Foreign object in the throat
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer 

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