Canine Kennel Cough

Aug 3, 2021 | Adoption Resources, All About Dogs, Pet Ownership

If you have questions about the health of your newly adopted pet, please consult your veterinarian. The adoption contract provides for an exchange within the first two weeks if your pet becomes seriously ill. Please carefully read the adoption contract in its entirety.


“Kennel Cough” is the common name for a highly contagious upper respiratory disease in dogs. It is caused by either the canine parainfluenza virus, or a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica,or a combination of these two. Kennel cough is commonly seen in dogs that are exposed to many other dogs in places such as animal shelters or boarding kennels. It is “species specific,” meaning it infects only dogs and puppies, not cats or humans.


Kennel cough is transferred between dogs by fluid discharged from the mouth or nose of an infected dog, similar to the transfer of the common cold between humans. Dogs can shed the virus through the air by sneezing, coughing, or breathing. It can also be spread through direct physical contact with cages, toys, food bowls, and even the hands and clothes of people handling dogs. Some dogs may be “silent carriers,” carrying and spreading the virus without showing symptoms of the disease themselves.


The most common symptom of kennel cough is a dry cough (sometimes described as “honking”) and in some cases, gagging after the cough. The cough is often brought on by excitement, exercise, or pressure on the dog’s trachea, such as that produced by a leash. Some dogs will only exhibit a runny nose. Affected dogs are usually otherwise alert and active, with a healthy appetite and no fever. In some cases, kennel cough may progress towards pneumonia. In these cases, dogs will cough up mucus, have nasal discharge, find it difficult to breath, run a fever, lose their appetite, and become depressed.


Any dog who is stressed by overcrowding, poor nutrition, cold or heat, age, fear, or infection, and has another disease, is susceptible to kennel cough. Dogs who are especially at risk for infection include unvaccinated dogs, puppies (because they have immature immune systems), and dogs whose immune systems are infected by another disease, such as heartworm, cancer, malnutrition, or parasites. Well vaccinated dogs who have healthy immune systems may still be susceptible to the disease, but symptoms are very mild and short-term, usually limited to 5 to 10 days of coughing with no fever or loss of appetite.


Kennel cough is a “self-limiting” disease, meaning that in many dogs it will go away in 10 to 14 days without treatment. Since most shelter dogs and puppies are under stress, antibiotics are often prescribed by the attending veterinarian to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections. Occasionally, a veterinarian will prescribe a cough suppressant to make the dog feel better and to decrease the throat irritation caused by coughing. In rare cases, kennel cough may progress to pneumonia, requiring more intense medical therapy and possibly hospitalization.

Source: ARL – Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Inc. 2018 –

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