• Jennifer Giesbrecht

Kennel Cough - what is it and why does my dog have it?!!

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

You hear your dog cough. "That's unusual," you think. You head on over to the vet and the vet says "Kennel cough". Depending on the vet, they may advise to let it run its course, or they might prescribe antibiotics to ward off any potential complications.

But what is kennel cough? And why do dogs catch "it" even when they've received the Bordatella vaccine from the vet?

Kennel Cough

There is actually no one such "thing" as kennel cough. Kennel cough is a broad term used to reference a contagious condition where coughing is the major clinical sign.

Properly known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis or canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), kennel cough can be caused by a variety of viral or bacterial organisms, one being the Bordetella bronchiseptica pathogen. Dogs can commonly get infections with more than one of these organisms at the same time.

The term kennel cough was coined to reflect the contagious nature of the virus or bacteria, and that it is most-easily spread where many dogs are together.


With it not being "a" thing, kennel cough is not a vaccine-preventable condition.

Just like with a flu shot for people, having the Bordetella vaccine will not prevent your dog from potentially catching any variant or strain of kennel cough. As mentioned, there are many tracheobronchitis-causing agents, and the vaccine doesn't cover them all.

Being vaccinated with the Bordetella vaccine may reduce symptoms or limit the duration of the symptoms, but will not prevent a dog from catching canine infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough).

About the Bordetella/Kennel Cough Vaccine

The Bordetella vaccine is non-sterile, like the flu vaccine, meaning it doesn't offer complete protection and vaccinated dogs can still catch one of the many viral or bacterial organisms responsible for kennel cough symptoms.

The Bordetella vaccine is also a live vaccine, and dogs that receive the vaccination can exhibit symptoms of Bordetella in the days following the vaccine and also shed the virus for days after receiving it.

The Bordetella vaccine can be administered intranasally, orally, or by injection. The intranasal and oral vaccines are live vaccines, and dogs can shed the virus for more than a week after administration. This is why we ask all clients whose dogs receive the intranasal or oral administration to wait at least 7 days before attending boarding or daycare.

We also ask for this wait period because your dog's immunity could dip in the period after they receive a vaccine booster, causing them to be susceptible to viruses or bacteria that otherwise would have no effect on them.

For this reason, we do what we can to minimize potential spread of the virus and to maximize your dog's protection by requiring the wait period after the oral or intranasal administration before your dog visits our facility.

Transmission and preventing spreading

Viral and bacterial organisms that cause kennel cough are primarily spread through airborne droplets produced by sneezing,coughing or barking, but can also be transmitted on surfaces.

A dog can be exposed to the many agents that cause kennel cough symptoms by walking on the sidewalk, interacting with others at the dog park, visiting the vet, or being anywhere a contagious dog has been.

Some dogs don't display any symptoms and by the time others do display symptoms, they will already have been contagious, which makes it a very tricky social illness to monitor for and impossible to prevent.

Kennel cough will happen. It is a part of living socially and being exposed to new dogs and new places.

Many first-time boarding guests, or guests new to socialization and play groups, won't have a very strong natural immune system yet because they haven't been exposed to much, which makes them more susceptible. Just like teachers' immune systems seem to be phenomenal, dogs who regularly interact with others will become hardier with stronger immune systems.

What we do to combat the spread of it

In addition to having very thorough daily sanitization of all shared and social surfaces, we have excellent airflow at our facility (the best combatant against the viral and bacterial organisms) with open air suites.

We also ask owners of guests who exhibit coughing to keep them at home until their coughing has dissipated and at least a week has passed with no cough or until a confirmation of the source of the cough has been made by a vet. Allergies, collapsed trachea and other conditions can cause persistent coughs that aren't contagious, but which could be confused for kennel cough.

If we note a boarding client with coughing, we contact the owner to discuss options, including having a friend or family member pick up the dog for the remainder of their stay, or moving the coughing dog to in-home boarding for monitoring for the remainder of their stay.

There is nothing we can do to eliminate the potential in a social situation, but we can do all we can, which includes education for all owners on what kennel cough is and how to identify it.

Symptoms of kennel cough

In healthy adult dogs, kennel cough typically remains as a mild cold-like illness and resolves itself; however, there are always exceptions, and in puppies or dogs with underlying health issues or compromised immune systems it can remain in their system much longer or become more serious requiring vet treatment or antibiotics.

The most common sign is a harsh, dry cough, which may be followed by retching and gagging. It is a sound that definitely tugs at the heartstrings. The severity of the cough usually diminishes during the first 5 days, but the illness can persist for up to 20 days or longer in young dogs, older dogs, or those with other underlying health issues or compromised immunity.

Other than a cough, which is generally worse in the morning, at night and after activity, appetite loss is usually the only other sign.

More severe signs, including fever, green nasal discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite, and a mucous-producing cough usually indicates a secondary infection which requires vet treatment.

Check out our infographic for some additional at-at-glance information about kennel cough.

Stress, which many dogs feel when away from home and boarding, can compromise a dog's immune system, further making a dog staying in a boarding situation susceptible to any variant of kennel cough.

Home treatments for symptoms of kennel cough

As with anything you introduce to your dog, please research the correct dose, use or application of each item to aid in alleviating your dog's symptoms.

And as always, you should always speak with your vet about your pet's health to choose the path most-appropriate for you and your pet. If your dog exhibits extreme lethargy, lack of appetite, changes in breathing or green nasal discharge, it is advisable to bring you dog to the vet.

Here are some methods which may aid in easing the symptoms of kennel cough:

  • Unpasteurized honey - A natural antibacterial (1 tbsp, 2x daily for larger breeds; 1/2 to 1 tsp, 2x daily for smaller breeds). Works to alleviate the nasal discharge that accompanies the cough. You can get unpasteurized honey from Bulk Barn and food stores.

  • Coconut oil - a natural antiviral and antibacterial. Helps to soothe throats.

  • Probiotics - Besides being excellent for oral and digestive health, these beneficial bacteria are a great support for the immune system.

  • Cinnamon - a natural antiviral you can sprinkle over food.

  • Chicken broth - homemade or with no added salt! Chicken broth is a great way to introduce additional fluids.

  • Vitamins C and E - both provide immune system support.

  • Licorice root and marshmallow root - natural anti-inflammatories and can soothe and naturally suppress a cough.

  • Slippery elm - can help soothe sore and irritated throats.

  • Oregano oil - has antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties.

  • Essential oils - can be used to help a pup with kennel cough breathe easier. Oils of eucalyptus and lavender have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Chamomile has a calming effect.

  • Steam treatments (if their cough has moved to their chest): Keep your dog in a steamy bathroom for about 10 minutes. Afterward, pat your dog firmly on both sides of their chest to help loosen mucous and help your dog cough them out. Can be done in conjunction with essential oil therapy.

My dog is coughing, now what?

If your dog is coughing, please keep them at home until you confirm the cough is from a non-contagious source (allergies, medical condition, etc.), or until the cough has run its course and they've been cough-free for a week.

Please also do give us a shout and let us know. We are always interested in the lives of all our special guests, and we like to inform everyone of when viruses sweep through the region and advise of anything particular to watch out for.

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