It can be distressing when our dogs aren’t well, and as our dogs can’t tell us what’s wrong, we often have to rely on identifying symptoms to gain an insight into what’s going on.
However, kennel cough is relatively easy to recognize. Categorized by a hacking cough that sounds like your dog is choking, it is sometimes accompanied by a watery nasal discharge.
Although unpleasant, it is not a serious condition for most dogs, and they will recover without treatment. Despite this, it’s worth knowing the symptoms, treatment options for soothing kennel cough, and risks associated with it.
What is Kennel Cough?
The simplest way to think of Kennel Cough is to compare it to the common cold. Also known as Infectious Tracheobronchitis, kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory condition that affects a dog’s lungs, windpipe, and voice box.
Kennel cough is found throughout the world and is caused by a range of viruses and bacteria, including Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus. These pathogens cause inflammation in the respiratory tract by attacking the lining of the upper airway and cause your dog to cough.
How does a dog get Kennel Cough?
Kennel cough is highly contagious and transmitted in three main ways;
- Airborne particles
- Direct contact
- Contaminated objects
When a dog coughs or sneezes, air-born contaminants disperse. If another dog is nearby and inhales the contaminated air, they can catch kennel cough. In crowded environments like doggy daycare and kennel facilities, it’s a significant issue as the dogs are near each other; it’s how kennel cough got its name. The prevalence in boarding facilities was so high.
Another way that dogs contract kennel cough is through direct contact with an affected dog. When dogs meet, they sniff each other, and the contact, no matter how brief, can spread the virus from pet to pet.
Lastly, dogs can catch kennel cough from contaminated objects; it’s why the infection is so hard to contain in a highly-populated area. Dog bowls, bedding, toys, and even carpets can hold the virus and infect any dog using the same objects.
Kennel Cough symptoms
Dogs with kennel cough develop a non-productive hacking cough. Often, the cough sounds like your dog is trying to eject something stuck in its throat. Sometimes the cough is accompanied by a watery nasal discharge along with lethargy and raised temperature.
Although not all dogs display the following symptoms, kennel cough can also be combined with the following signs;
- Persistent and forceful coughing
- Dripping nose
- Sore throat
- Runny and inflamed eyes
- Loss of appetite
Kennel cough usually appears within a few days of being in contact with an infected dog. The cough may get worse when your dog exercises and can be triggered by pressure on the front of your dog’s throat (trachea). Although kennel cough is rarely dangerous, very occasionally, it can progress to life-threatening pneumonia.
If you think your dog has kennel cough contact your vet and tell them your suspicions. As Kennel cough is contagious, don’t take your dog into the waiting room. Although there isn’t a specific test for kennel cough, your veterinarian will examine your dog and exclude any other causes of non-productive cough.
Your vet will take a note of your dog’s recent history, such as attending doggy daycare or a recent stay in kennels. This information, along with the examination, will be used to confirm a diagnosis of kennel cough.
Treatment for kennel cough
In mild cases of kennel cough, medication isn’t needed. Usually, the condition clears up within seven to fourteen days, very much like the common cold. However, if the illness is severe, your dog may need antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and cough medicine may be required.
If symptoms persist, you should take your dog back to the veterinarian as in rare cases; kennel cough can develop into life-threatening conditions like pneumonia. Some dogs are more prone to complications than others. Puppies with an undeveloped immune system, older dogs, and dogs with existing conditions that compromise their immune systems are particularly vulnerable.
If your dog stops eating, becomes listless, or develops a productive cough along with a thick nasal discharge, contact your vet immediately.
Can you give a dog cough medicine?
Many people want to ease their dog’s discomfort by giving them cough medicine. Although you can provide some types of human medication to your dog, getting the dosage right is vital. The most common cause of death due to toxicity in pets is medication overdose. So don’t be tempted to give your dog anything before checking with your veterinarian.
Your vet may suggest cough syrup for your dog, but they will also give you the proper dosage based on your dog’s size and weight. Robitussin for kennel cough is a popular choice. However, the problem with giving any form of cough suppressant is if the infection develops into something more serious. Suppressing a cough if your dog has developed pneumonia, for example, is liable to extend the condition.
Natural remedies for kennel cough
So can you help your dog when they are suffering from kennel cough? Just like us, when we have a cold, there are some natural remedies for kennel cough that you can try at home.
Raw honey is natural, completely safe, and has antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s not surprising then that it finds its way into so many over-the-counter medicines. Giving your dog honey soothes a sore throat and can aid in recovery. What’s more, you should have no problems with your dog taking it as they love the taste.
Although there isn’t a recommended dose, think about the size of your dog and aim for somewhere between half a teaspoon and a full teaspoon of honey three to four times a day. If you find that your dog’s cough is worse after their morning and evening walks, this is the perfect time to offer them a spoonful.
Coconut oil, like raw honey, has exceptional antiviral properties. Not only that, but it’s antibacterial, helps prevent harmful yeasts and fungi from developing, and can aid in recovery.
Coconut oil can affect your dog’s stools, so introduce it gradually to their diet. The recommended dosage for dogs suffering from kennel cough is two teaspoons of coconut oil per ten pounds of bodyweight spread throughout the day.
If you’ve ever suffered from an awful cold, you’ve almost certainly, at some point, tried a vapor rub or air spray. While care is needed to keep your dog safe when dealing with essentials oils, using them in a diffuser is a perfect way to help provide relief from sore throats and congestion.
Eucalyptus, lavender, and cinnamon all have antiviral properties and, once diluted, can either be sprayed into the air or used in a diffuser to help soothe your dog’s cough.
If you aren’t a fan of essential oils, you can treat your dog with natural steam instead. Run a hot shower and fill the room with steam. Take your dog into the steam for thirty minutes, three times a day, as the moist air helps ease a dry hacking cough.
Once your dog feels a bit more comfortable, they are more likely to feel more energetic and want to carry on with their daily routine. But is it possible with kennel cough?
Can I walk my dog with kennel cough?
As exercise can aggravate your dog’s cough, you may need to restrict your dog’s walks for a week or two. Using a harness rather than a collar to walk your dog may also help as it removes the pressure from your dog’s windpipe.
Because kennel cough is so contagious, walk your dog away from other dogs and areas with high dog traffic like parks. Even once your dog has stopped coughing, it’s advisable to keep them isolated from other dogs for a couple of weeks as they can remain infectious even after symptoms have disappeared.
Can Kennel cough be transferred to humans?
Unfortunately, your dog can transmit kennel cough to you. It’s what is known as a zoonotic condition. Although anyone can get a zoonotic disease, some people are more at risk than others. If you have a dog with kennel cough, you need to take extra care and prevent them from coming in contact with any of the following;
- Anyone with a weakened immune system
- Children under five
- Pregnant women
- The elderly
You can take precautions to protect your family’s health and prevent them from catching kennel cough.
- Always wash your hands after contact with your dog
- Don’t allow your dog to lick you
- Avoid playing rough with your dog to prevent accidental scratches
- To avoid accidental contamination, thoroughly wash your dog’s bedding, bowls, and toys.
It’s unlikely that you will be affected by your dog’s kennel cough if you are fit and healthy. So there’s no need to quarantine your dog; just be extra careful if you come into contact with vulnerable individuals.
Is Kennel cough contagious to cats?
Yes, the kennel cough bacterium is the same for both cats and dogs, so it can easily pass between them. However, cats get sick much less frequently than dogs do from the infection. Some cats carry the bacteria without ever getting sick themselves but can spread the virus to other cats and dogs they come into contact with.
Symptoms of kennel cough in a cat are similar to that in dogs, except the cough tends to be productive, and cats suffer more breathing difficulties.
Some of the signs of infection in cats include;
- A cough ( moist and productive)
- Nasal discharge
- Loss of appetite
Just as with dogs, some cats are more vulnerable to the disease than others. Kittens, elderly cats, and cats with existing health conditions should all be monitored closely and taken to your veterinarian if you notice symptoms.
Can my dog get kennel cough more than once?
Like the common cold, kennel cough has many different strains meaning your dog could catch kennel cough multiples times throughout its lifetime.
Particular strains like Bordetella bronchiseptica do provide short-term immunity once contracted. So if your dog is otherwise healthy, it should not get re-infected with that particular strain for six to twelve months.
Kennel cough prevention
Many of the infections that cause kennel cough are covered by your dog’s essential vaccinations and boosters. These include canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus type 2, canine influenza, and distemper.
However, by far, the most common bacteria present in dogs with kennel cough is Bordetella bronchiseptica. This bacterium is not covered by the standard vaccinations but is available separately.
Kennel cough nasal vaccine
The vaccine for Bordetella bronchiseptica is given to your dog via a nasal spray. Although the vaccine lasts for a year and is given to dogs as young as three weeks, it does not altogether prevent the possibility of your dog getting a cough.
Since most kennels insist on the Bordetella vaccination, if you ever want to board your dog, you will need to get your dog immunized.
Soothing kennel cough
The good news is that kennel cough is a self-limiting disease. If your dog is generally fit and healthy, there is usually no need for treatment. In most circumstances, your dog will make a full recovery within a couple of weeks. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to know what to look for and when further investigation is needed.
If your dog is coughing and you suspect kennel cough, it’s always worth getting them checked by your veterinarian as other upper respiratory conditions produce a similar cough. This is especially true if you have a young or elderly dog where complications are more commonplace than with less vulnerable dogs.
Just as when we have colds, making your dog comfortable while they recover is key. Help your dog by ensuring they have plenty of rest, soothe their coughs with natural treatment like raw honey and steam, and most importantly, keep them away from other dogs while they are infectious.