What is kennel cough? Causes, symptoms and treatment

Sally Keegan

A couple of croaks, hacks or hawks from your pup and the common question comes to mind, ‘Could it be kennel cough?’. Then, for many owners, the next questions that follows is, ‘What is kennel cough?’.

While dog owners around the world have heard of kennel cough, not many of us know exactly what it is, how to spot it, or how to treat it. To clear up any confusion, we asked the veterinary experts at our dedicated Vet Advice Line to answer the most common questions about kennel cough.

So, from kennel cough symptoms to solutions, here’s what the veterinary experts have to say...

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is the common name given to infectious tracheobronchitis in dogs. Just like human chest infections, the illness can be caused by several different bacteria and viruses, but it's normally a combination of both.

Kennel cough causes dogs to cough — ahem, hence the name — which is how the contagious infection is spread. Again, just as the name implies, the infection is passed on quickly when dogs are in the same environment, such as while at boarding kennels. In fact, the risk of infection is one of the many reasons more and more travelling owners are choosing to invite in-house pet sittersto care for their canines, over traditional boarding kennels.

Of course, the threat of kennel cough is not limited to boarding kennels. It can be caught anywhere there is a group of four-pawed friends, such as at doggy daycare, while out on dog walks, and even at the veterinary surgery.

What are the kennel cough symptoms to look out for?

Kennel cough affects dogs’ respiratory systems, causing them to cough. The infection can sometimes also lead to sneezing, runny eyes, and even nasal discharge.

The most well-known kennel cough symptom is a hard hacking sound, with people often describing it as the noise of a dog trying to clear something from its throat. The cough can be dry and forceful, but it can also produce mucus.

How dangerous is kennel cough?

A poorly pup is never a nice thing but, while kennel cough can be a nuisance for both dog and owner, it is not usually a serious condition.

However, if a dog is very young, very old, or already has a medical condition, they are more likely to suffer with the kennel cough symptoms than a fit and healthy dog. Either way, it’s always best to get a coughing dog checked by a vet.

Remember, kennel cough is contagious. So, when booking an appointment with the vet, make sure you let the receptionist know the symptoms. You may find that the vet would prefer to see your pooch in a different environment to control the spread of infection.

Can humans catch kennel cough?

Yes, kennel cough is a zoonotic risk which means it can be spread from animals to humans. The risk of infection is very small unless you’re already ill or particularly young, but it’s still best not to cuddle up to poorly pups — no matter how cute!

If you’ve been around a dog with kennel cough symptoms and are concerned for your health, the experts at Vet Advice Line recommend contacting your GP.

What is the best kennel cough treatment?

There is no one-size-fits-all kennel cough treatment. To ease their cough and soothe their sore throat, you can add a tablespoon of honey to your dog’s water bowl. In more serious cases, kennel cough treatment may involve a course of antibiotics or an anti-inflammatory to make your dog more comfortable.

Unfortunately, a bit like the cold virus in humans, this is a condition that needs to run its course. Don’t expect a healthy hound overnight — it can take up to six weeks for your dog to fully recover from kennel cough.

Should my dog have a kennel cough vaccination?

Like many illnesses, prevention is better than cure. If your dog is in regular contact with other dogs, then it’s recommended that they are vaccinated to avoid the infection altogether. The kennel cough vaccine is a yearly nasal spray and it can protect against some of the strains of this infection.

A reputable boarding kennel will require any residents to be up to date with their kennel cough vaccine. So, if you do choose the option of boarding while you’re away, your pooch should be protected. However, if you want to completely minimise the risk of your dog been exposed to potentially poorly pooches, then an in-house pet sitter may be your best solution.

More questions about kennel cough?

Do you still have unanswered questions about kennel cough? Remember, our members can talk to the registered vet nurses at Vet Advice Line day or night, for free! From medical matters like kennel cough treatment to general concerns around doggy diets and behaviour, Vet Advice Line is there to help. You can find the Vet Advice Line number in your member dashboard.

If you’re going away and are considering the option of a house and pet sitter to keep your pooch safe from kennel cough, then be sure to take a look at the caring community of sitters at TrustedHousesitters. There, you’ll meet thousands of pet-loving people who won’t charge a penny to keep your pooch safe and healthy in their happy place — their home!

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