How Do You Treat Kennel Cough?

Reviewed on 3/27/2021

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is also called canine infectious tracheobronchitis or canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD). It is a common and highly contagious respiratory disease of dogs. Kennel cough can be caused by infection with various bacteria and viruses. Dogs generally get kennel cough from places where canines congregate in large numbers, such as training groups, dog shows and daycare facilities. The infection, like several other respiratory illnesses, spreads through airborne droplets or contact with infected animals or contaminated objects, such as food/water bowls.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

A dog with kennel cough generally has a forceful, hacking cough. The cough may have a “honking” sound as though the dog has something stuck in its throat. The cough may be dry and hoarse or “wet” and produce sputum (productive cough). A productive cough may be followed by gagging, a swallowing motion or discharge of mucus from the mouth. They may also show one or more of the following symptoms

Kennel cough is generally treatable in most dogs. In puppies younger than six months of age, elderly dogs and immunocompromised dogs (dogs with low immunity), kennel cough may manifest as a serious illness. The severity of illness may also vary depending on the virulence (ability to cause a severe disease) of the infecting virus or bacteria.

How do you treat kennel cough?

The management of kennel cough in dogs includes

  • Rest: This is important for faster recovery. Rest for one to two weeks is generally required.
  • Antibiotics: The veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
  • Cough medications: They help ease the symptoms.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: They help relieve symptoms, such as fever and pain.

You must use a harness instead of a collar to walk a dog suffering from kennel cough. A collar can further irritate the windpipe (tracheal), which can worsen the cough and possibly even damage the windpipe. Using a humidifier around your dog may help relieve symptoms. Severe cases of kennel cough may need hospitalization where treatment may additionally involve intravenous (IV) fluids and oxygen therapy.

Can kennel cough spread to humans?

Most viruses and bacteria causing kennel cough cannot spread to humans. One of the main bacteria causing kennel cough, Bordetella bronchiseptica, can infect humans. However, this is quite rare. It is mainly a risk factor for people with weak immune systems, such as people with HIV, cancer patients or diabetes. Thus, kennel cough is generally not a concern for most humans.

Can kennel cough be prevented?

Kennel cough may be caused by a wide range of viruses and bacteria. Fortunately, a vaccine is available for the bacterium (Bordetella) that causes most cases of kennel cough. The vaccine is typically recommended for dogs who are frequently boarded, visit daycare, get frequent kennel cough, compete in canine sports or are exposed to other settings with large groups of dogs. The vaccine is available in several forms, such as oral, intranasal and injectable forms. The vaccine is generally administered in two doses that are two to four weeks apart. This is followed by a booster every six months to a year.

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