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Everything you need to know about kennel cough in dogs

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Kennel cough is a common issue for dogs of all ages and sizes. Most dogs will suffer from a few bouts of kennel cough during their lifetime. Luckily, it’s rarely serious, and the vast majority of dogs make a full recovery within 10-14 days.

By Ashley Murphy

What is kennel cough in dogs?

Kennel cough is a highly contagious disease that affects your dogs' respiratory system. It's also very common. Dr Jerry Murray has been a vet for over 23 years. He still sees at least one instance of kennel cough every week and has periods in which he treats several cases per day.

The medical term is infectious bronchitis, and, just like in humans, it can be caused by a wide range of bacteria and viruses. These nasty pathogens attack the respiratory tract, causing inflammation of the airways. This leads to irritation and a dry cough. Dogs with kennel cough are more vulnerable to secondary infections, such as pneumonia, although this is rare. Kennel cough is more common during the summer months, but a dog can still catch it at any time of the year.

How is kennel cough spread?

Because kennel cough is so contagious, it thrives in spaces where lots of dogs are living in close proximity. It's especially prevalent in boarding kennels (hence the name.) Other places that help it spread include doggy day care centres, local parks, animal shelters, and dog grooming salons. It's an airborne disease, but your dog can also catch it from contaminated objects, like food or water bowls.

Symptoms of kennel cough in dogs

The first thing you'll notice is a persistent, dry cough. It will have a very distinct sound; some people describe it as a “honking” noise. It will also sound like your dog is trying to clear its throat. Some dogs will experience other symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, or a discharge from the eyes. They might appear a little tired, but they will generally keep their appetites.

The symptoms usually manifest 3 - 10 days after exposure to the disease.

Is there anything I can do to stop my dog from getting kennel cough?

Keeping them away from infected dogs will help. By this isn't always possible, so you could look into getting your dog vaccinated. The vaccine for a kennel cough can be injected, administered orally, or given in the form of a nasal spray. Vaccines can protect your dog from kennel cough and reduce its symptoms. However, it doesn't offer a 100% guarantee against infection. Speak to your vet for more advice.

Treatment of kennel cough in dogs

This depends on how bad the symptoms are. In milder cases, your dog's natural immune system will deal with kennel cough on its own. This takes a week or two. More serious instances can be treated with antibiotics and cough suppressors. It might take a little longer for your dog to recover, but these are still very effective treatments. If you don't see any improvement after 14 days then take your dog back to the vet. It’s rare, but kennel cough can lead to pneumonia. Other associated symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, breathing difficulties, and excessive discharge and mucus. If any of these symptoms present themselves, then your dog needs urgent medical attention.

And remember to isolate the infected dog. Kennel cough is super contagious, and it can be passed to other domestic animals, including cats.

Kennel cough in puppies

As puppies live very close together during their first few months, it's very likely they’ll catch the odd case of kennel cough. Puppies generally display the same symptoms as older dogs. Again, it usually clears on its own after a few weeks. If not, your vet can prescribe antibiotics. And remember to keep an eye out for any symptoms associated with pneumonia. These will need treating ASAP.

Much like the common cold for us humans, the odd kennel cough is part of a dog's life. Luckily, kennel cough is not normally very serious and will usually clear up after a few weeks. Due to their weakened immune systems, some older dogs or puppies may suffer a bit more. Still, a two-week course of antibiotics will get them back on track. Given how contagious it is, Kennel cough can be quite hard to prevent. But do your best to keep your pet away from other infected animals, and speak to a vet for more information on the vaccine.