Kennel Cough 101

Kennel Cough In Dogs…also called Canine Cough, Bordetellosis and Infectious Tracheobronchitis

Kennel Cough in dogs is a dry, hacking cough that appears about three to five days after the dog is initially infected. It sounds as if the dog needs to “clear it’s throat”. The cough may be triggered by any extra activity or exercise. Many dogs that acquire Kennel Cough will cough every few minutes, all day long. Their general state of health and alertness will be unaffected, they usually have no rise in temperature, and do not loose their appetite. The signs of Canine Cough, when left untreated, usually will last from 7 to 21 days and can be very annoying for the dog and the dog’s owners.


Kennel cough can be caused by a number of viruses as well as bacteria, and most often a combination of the two. Probably the single most common organism involved is a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica.


The organisms can be present in the expired air of an infected dog, much the same way that human “colds” are transmitted. The airborne organisms will be carried in the air in microscopically tiny water vapor or dust particles. The airborne organisms, if inhaled by a susceptible dog, can attach to the lining of the trachea and upper airway passages.

The reason this disease seems so common, and is even named “Kennel” cough, is that wherever there are numbers of dogs confined together in an enclosed environment such as a kennel, animal shelter, dog show, or dog park, the disease is much more likely to be spread. The same is true with the “colds” spread from human to human… they are much more likely to occur in a populated, enclosed environment such as an airplane, elevator, or office. All it takes for contagion to occur is a single source (infected dog), an enclosed environment, and susceptible individuals in close proximity to the source of the infection. Infected dogs can spread the organisms for days even after seeming to have fully recovered. Dogs not displaying symptoms make kennel cough impossible to detect!

Even in the most hygienic, well ventilated, spacious kennels, the possibility of a dog acquiring Kennel Cough exists. Kennel Cough can be acquired from your neighbor’s dog, from a Champion show dog at a dog show, from daycare, or outdoor events where dogs are allowed. If your dog develops Kennel Cough shortly after a stay at the kennel, there may have been an infected dog, unknown to anyone, that acted as a source for other dogs in the kennel.


It is always a good idea to have any dog examined if coughing is noticed, as some serious respiratory diseases such as Heartworms and even cardiac disease might display similar sounding coughing. Your veterinarian, through a careful physical exam and questioning regarding the dog’s recent environment, will be able to establish if the dog’s respiratory signs are from Kennel Cough or some other respiratory problem. Treatment is generally limited to symptomatic relief of the coughing, and cough suppressants. If the dog is running a fever or there seems to be a persistent and severe cough, antibiotics are occasionally utilized to assist the dog in recovering from Kennel Cough. It can happen that secondary bacterial invaders will complicate a case of Kennel Cough and prolong the recovery and severely affect the upper airway. Therefore the use of antibiotics is determined on an individual basis.


The most common prevention is either an intra-nasal or injectible Bordetella vaccine. However, the vaccine alone may not be fully protective because of other infectious agents and mutation. It would be similar to humans getting a flu shot. While this helps to prevent us from getting the most common strain of influenza, it will not protect against all strains. If your dog happens to acquire Kennel Cough, it will then have some immunity to subsequent exposures. The length of time these natural exposures and the vaccinations will produce protective immunity will vary greatly. We currently recommend annual Bordetella vaccinations.

NOTE: Any vaccine takes time to stimulate the dog’s protective immunity to the disease. Vaccinating a dog the day it is exposed to disease may not be protective. If you plan to board your dog, or protect it from exposure, remember to vaccinate one to two weeks prior to potential exposure to allow full protective immunity to build up.


Our facility is equipped with a ventilation system that exchanges the air in our boarding and daycare areas several times per hour. All runs and kennels are cleaned and disinfected twice per day, and again after each pet is discharged. Our daycare floor is scrubbed and disinfected at the end of each day, and toys are laundered or soaked overnight in a sanitizing solution. The same food and water bowls stay with the same pets throughout their stay, and are disinfected after use. Sheepskin bedding is laundered after each pet’s use. All dogs must have annual Bordetella & Parainfluenza (DHPP) vaccinations, and no dogs are allowed to check-in if coughing is present.


If you suspect your dog has acquired kennel cough after a stay at our facility, we will examine and offer medication at no charge. We know we don’t have to…but we consider it part of exceptional service.