At some point, all dogs will have a small cough. Whether they’ve just gotten something stuck in their throats, or they’re dealing with a minor illness, just like people, dogs sometimes cough. But how do you know when that cough is something more serious such as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, otherwise known as kennel cough in dogs
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What is Kennel Cough?
Kennel cough is a condition that develops in dogs that will cause them to have a consistent, forceful cough.
At times it can sound as though your dog is choking, but the hacking sound will be much more persistent. The cough can also have its own distinct sound, sounding more like the honking of a goose than an actual cough. But whatever it sounds like, there’s no doubt that the coughing will be extremely forceful, and may even lead you to think that there’s something seriously wrong with your dog.
Just like coughs that people catch from common colds, kennel cough can have many different causes. One of the most common causes of kennel cough is a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. It’s for this reason that kennel cough is commonly called Bordetella. When dogs are infected with this particular type of bacteria, they are often infected with the kennel cough virus at the same time.
Dogs will contract kennel cough after these bacteria or viruses have found their way into the dog’s respiratory tract, usually by sniffing and inhaling them. While the respiratory tract is typically lined with mucus that will catch infectious particles such as these viruses, sometimes this mucus lining can break down. That weakening of the mucus lining can be due to several things including a crowded or poorly ventilated environment, such as those that are found in kennels and shelters, extreme cold, being exposed to dust and/or cigarette smoke, and even stress brought on by travel.
Once that mucus lining breaks down, kennel cough can set in and can even eventually lead to inflammation of the voice box and windpipe.
Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs
Of course, the most obvious symptom of kennel cough is the harsh, forceful cough that will be present. It’s important that this noise is not confused with the short, reverse sneezes that some dogs, especially smaller breeds, can make that sound a lot like the harsh cough of kennel cough. Some other symptoms of kennel cough are:
- Runny nose
- Discharge from the eye
- Fever may be present in dogs that have a more serious form of the condition
- Lethargy, although this will not be present in all dogs suffering from kennel cough
It’s important to know that some dogs are simply carriers of the condition, even though they may not show any symptoms. However, when they’re around other dogs they can pass on the condition, and that could even put them at risk for infection themselves.
Transmission of Kennel Cough
Kennel cough is extremely contagious, easily being passed from one animal to another. There are three different ways kennel cough can be transmitted. These are:
- Through the air. Because kennel cough is caused by viruses, it’s airborne, and so can be picked up just by your dog walking into the same place that an infected dog has already been. When a dog with kennel cough releases that harsh cough, they send thousands of microscopic particles in the air, and those particles are contaminated. These particles, which also carry the virus, can survive in the air for several hours, more than enough time for another host to come through and inhale the same virus.
- Contaminated objects. Just like those thousands of infected particles can survive in the air for several hours, they can last even longer once they’ve landed on an object that they contaminate, such as a water dish or a toy. If another dog comes into contact with that same item, they will likely also pick up the virus and become infected with it.
- Other dogs. It makes sense that if these thousands of infected particles can live in the air and on objects, they live for even longer within and on the body of dogs that are already infected with the condition. Because of this, if your dog sniffs the nose or body, or is just close enough to a dog that has kennel cough, they could easily become infected.
Treatment for Kennel Cough
Usually, kennel cough will go away on its own within three or four weeks, although for very young dogs or those with a compromised immune system, it could last up to six weeks. Typically, no treatment is necessary but because kennel cough can take such a toll on a dog’s body and mental state, you may want to try treating it so your pet can feel better sooner.
- Antibiotics can be prescribed by your vet and they can help deal with some of the symptoms of kennel cough. However, because antibiotics will treat the bacteria element of the condition, and not the viral aspect, antibiotics will need to be used in conjunction with another treatment.
- Vitamin C. While Vitamin C won’t directly help the kennel cough, it will boost the immune system of your dog, which will in turn help fight the kennel cough and help them recover faster. Typically 500 milligrams of Vitamin C per pound of body weight is the proper dosage for your dog, but always check with your vet before giving your pup any kind of medication or supplement. Also when administering Vitamin C, remember to provide your pet with lots of water to drink. This will help the vitamins move through their system and become absorbed much quicker.
- Honey also won’t directly affect your dog’s kennel cough, but it can help with the dry, irritated throat your dog is likely suffering from for the duration of their kennel cough. Typically half a teaspoon given about three times a day is enough to help but again, check with your vet before giving your pet anything.
- These small appliances push moisture into the air, which can feel wonderful to your dog’s dry, irritated lungs. If you don’t have a humidifier, letting your dog sit in a steamy bathroom can also do the trick.
- Staying away from smoke. Of course, you don’t want to smoke around any dog that has kennel cough, as that could send them into a severe bout of coughing. But, also remember that campfires and bonfires can have the same effect so try to keep your pet away from these while they’re suffering from kennel cough.
- Harness instead of leashing. When you place a leash on the collar of your dog and then go out for a walk, any tugging or pulling they do can irritate their throat, which will cause them to cough and further irritate their lungs. Instead, place a harness over your dog’s body that can have the leash attached to the back rather than the throat.
- Help your dog relax. Relaxation on its own won’t cure or treat kennel cough. However, a stressed dog is going to take much longer to recover from kennel cough while keeping them relaxed and stress-free will lead to a much faster recovery.
Kennel cough in dogs can be a very troubling condition should your dog ever catch it. Luckily if your dog does contract the virus, it should clear up on its own within a few weeks and, to make sure that you and your dog never have to deal with it in the first place, there are several steps you can take to prevent it.
I've been a dog lover since the day I was born but it's the current four legged love of my life, Phoebe who inspired me to create the Munch.Zone.
We moved together from Israel to New York in 2013, love hiking together, and never pass up a trip to the dog park. Watching her over the years sparked so many questions about dog behavior and health needs, and it wasn't always easy to find answers. Thus, the Munch.Zone was born.
On any given day you'll find me watching Netflix originals, eating popcorn, and thinking about how to get into house flipping.