It can be really distressing when our dogs aren’t well. 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 something that is relatively easy to recognise. Categorised by a hacking cough that sounds like your dog is choking it is sometimes accompanied by a watery nasal discharge.
Although unpleasant, for most dogs it is not a serious condition, and they will recover without treatment. Despite this, it’s worth knowing the symptoms, treatment options and risks associated with it.
What is Kennel Cough?
The simplest way to think of Kennel Cough is to compare it the common cold. Also known as Tracheobronchitis, kennel cough is a highly contagious disease 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. There are three main ways that the condition is spread;
- Air borne particles
- Direct contact
- Contaminated objects
When a dog coughs or sneezes, air born contaminates are dispersed into the air. If another dog is nearby and inhales the contaminated air, they can catch kennel cough.
This causes problems in crowded environments like doggy day care and kennel facilities as the dogs are in close proximity to each other. This is how kennel cough got its name as the prevalence in kennels 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 which is why it’s so hard to contain in a highly populated area.
Dog bowls, bedding, toys and even carpets can hold the virus and infect any dog that uses 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 their throats.
Sometimes the cough is accompanied by a watery nasal discharge along with a lethargy and raised temperature.
Although not all dogs display the following symptoms kennel cough can also be combined with the following signs;
- A persistent and forceful cough
- Dripping nose
- Sore throat
- Runny and inflamed eyes
The condition 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 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 until you are called.
Although there isn’t a specific test for kennel cough, your vet will examine your dog and exclude any other causes of a non-productive cough.
Your vet will take a note of your dog’s recent history such as attending doggy day care or a recent stay in kennels. This information along with the examination will be used to confirm a diagnosis of kennel cough.
In mild cases of kennel cough, no medication is needed. Usually, the condition clears up within seven to fourteen days, very much like the common cold.
However, if the condition is severe antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and cough medicine can be prescribed.
If symptoms persist, you should take your dog back to the vet as in rare cases kennel cough can develop into more serious 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 are tempted to try to ease their dog’s discomfort by giving them cough medicine. Although you can give some types of human medicine 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 vet.
Your vet may suggest cough syrup for your dog, but they will also give you the right 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 infection
Kennel Cough natural treatments
So can you help your dog when they are suffering from kennel cough? Just like us when we have a cold there are some things that you can do to help your dog feel more comfortable.
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 coughs more after their morning and evening walks this is the perfect time to offer them a spoonful.
Coconut oil, like honey, has amazing 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 that are suffering from kennel cough is 2 teaspoons of coconut oil per ten pounds of body weight. This should be spread throughout the day.
If you’ve ever suffered from an awful cold, you’ve almost certainly, at some point tried a vapour rub or air spray.
While care needs to be taken 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.
If you aren’t a fan of essential oils, you can use plain 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 and the moist air will ease their dry hacking cough.
Once your dog is feeling 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, it’s essential that you 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 contagious even after the cough has come to an end.
Can Kennel cough be transferred to humans?
Unfortunately, kennel cough can pass to you from your dog. 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
To minimise the risk of your family catching kennel cough, there are precautions that you can take.
- 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
- Thoroughly wash your dog’s bedding, bowls and toys to prevent accidental contamination
It’s unlikely that if you are fit and healthy that you will be affected by your dog’s kennel cough. 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 be transmitted between the two.
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 cats 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 conditions should all be monitored closely and taken to your vet.
Can my dog get kennel cough more than once?
Like the common cold, kennel cough has many different strains. This means that your dog could catch kennel cough multiples times throughout their lifetime.
Particular strains like Bordetella bronchiseptica do provide short-term immunity once they’ve been contracted.
So if your dog is otherwise healthy, they should not get re-infected with that particular strain for six to twelve months.
Kennel cough prevention
Many of the infections that can cause kennel cough are already covered by your dog’s basic vaccinations and boosters that are done as a puppy.
These include canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus type 2, canine influenza and distemper.
However, by far the most common bacteria present in kennel cough is Bordetella bronchiseptica. This bacterium is not covered by the standard vaccinations but can be given 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 can be 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, however, if you ever want to board your dog, then you will need to get your dog immunised.
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 useful to know what to look for and when further investigation is needed.
If you suspect that your dog does have kennel cough, it’s always worth getting them checked by your vet as other 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 is key. Limit exercise, soothe their coughs with a drop of honey and most importantly keep them away from other dogs while they are infectious.