How do dogs get kennel cough?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: July 4, 2024

Introduction to Kennel Cough

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs. It is characterized by a persistent, dry, hacking cough, which can sometimes sound like a honking goose. Understanding how dogs acquire kennel cough is crucial for prevention and management.

Pathogens Involved

Kennel cough is caused by a variety of pathogens, with the most common being:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica: A bacteria that is the primary cause of kennel cough. It can be transmitted between different species, including cats and rabbits.
  • Canine Parainfluenza Virus: An important viral contributor that weakens the respiratory system, making it more susceptible to bacterial infections.
  • Canine Adenovirus Type 2: Another virus that can cause respiratory issues and exacerbate kennel cough symptoms.
  • Mycoplasma: These bacteria can also play a role in the development of kennel cough, though they are less common.

Transmission Methods

Dogs can contract kennel cough through several transmission methods:

Direct Contact

Direct contact between dogs is one of the primary ways kennel cough spreads. This can occur through activities such as:

  • Playing
  • Sniffing each other
  • Sharing food and water bowls

Airborne Transmission

Kennel cough can spread through airborne droplets when an infected dog coughs or sneezes. These droplets can be inhaled by a healthy dog, leading to infection.

Contaminated Surfaces

Kennel cough pathogens can survive on surfaces such as:

  • Dog toys
  • Crates
  • Grooming tools

Dogs can become infected by coming into contact with these contaminated objects.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase a dog's risk of contracting kennel cough:

High-Density Environments

Places with a high concentration of dogs, such as:

  • Boarding kennels
  • Dog parks
  • Doggy daycares

These environments provide ample opportunities for the pathogens to spread.

Age and Health Status

Puppies, elderly dogs, and those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to kennel cough due to their reduced ability to fight off infections.

Vaccination Status

Dogs that are not up-to-date on their vaccinations, particularly the Bordetella vaccine, have a higher risk of contracting kennel cough.

Prevention Strategies

Preventing kennel cough involves a combination of strategies:


Vaccinating your dog against Bordetella and other respiratory pathogens is the most effective way to prevent kennel cough. Vaccines can be administered in several forms:

  • Injectable
  • Intranasal
  • Oral

Hygiene Practices

Maintaining good hygiene in areas where dogs congregate can help reduce the spread of kennel cough. This includes:

  • Regularly disinfecting surfaces
  • Washing dog toys and bedding
  • Ensuring proper ventilation in indoor areas

Avoiding High-Risk Environments

Limiting your dog's exposure to high-density dog environments during outbreaks of kennel cough can help prevent infection.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Recognizing the symptoms of kennel cough is essential for early intervention and treatment:

Common Symptoms

The hallmark symptom of kennel cough is a persistent, dry cough. Other symptoms may include:

  • Retching or gagging
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Low-grade fever
  • Lethargy


A veterinarian may diagnose kennel cough based on clinical signs and the dog's history. In some cases, further diagnostic tests such as:

  • Chest X-rays
  • Blood tests
  • Swabs of the respiratory tract

These tests can help determine the specific pathogens involved.

Treatment Options

Treatment for kennel cough varies depending on the severity of the infection:

Supportive Care

Most cases of kennel cough are mild and can be managed with supportive care, including:

  • Ensuring the dog gets plenty of rest
  • Providing a humid environment
  • Using a harness instead of a collar to avoid throat irritation


In more severe cases, a veterinarian may prescribe medications such as:

  • Antibiotics to treat bacterial infections
  • Cough suppressants to reduce coughing
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce throat inflammation

Recovery and Aftercare

Dogs typically recover from kennel cough within 1-3 weeks. During this time, it's important to:

  • Isolate the infected dog from other dogs
  • Continue with prescribed medications
  • Monitor for any worsening symptoms

Long-Term Effects

While most dogs recover fully from kennel cough, some may experience long-term effects, particularly if they had severe infections or underlying health conditions. These effects can include:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased susceptibility to respiratory infections

Kennel cough, with its myriad of causative agents and transmission routes, underscores the importance of vigilance in dog care. By understanding the pathways of infection, employing preventive measures, and recognizing symptoms early, pet owners can significantly reduce the risk of this common yet troubling condition. How one chooses to integrate these insights into their pet care routine ultimately shapes the health and happiness of their furry companions.

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