Kennel Cough Cause, Symptoms & Treatment Options

by | Oct 2, 2023 | Dogs, Health & Wellness

As a dog parent, you stay on top of your dog’s health. You watch what they eat, provide exercise so they don’t get overweight, and socialize them so they’re comfortable in various settings. Another aspect of dog care is learning about dog diseases and their symptoms so you know when your pup is ill. One such illness you should know about is kennel cough. Surprisingly, if your dog has kennel cough, you may not know it, as there is a good chance they’ll eat well and act fine. Your pup probably won’t have a fever. But the one classic kennel cough symptom to watch for is a honking, gagging cough.

This article will help you discover kennel cough causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options if your dog contracts kennel cough. Plus, it will help you discover how to make the treatments cost-effective.

Table of Contents

  • What Is Kennel Cough?
  • Causes of Kennel Cough
  • Symptoms and Signs of Kennel Cough
  • Diagnosing Kennel Cough
  • Treatment Options for Kennel Cough
    • Home Care for Dogs with Kennel Cough
  • Preventive Measures for Kennel Cough
  • When to Seek Veterinary Attention
  • Kennel Cough in Puppies and Senior Dogs
  • Kennel Cough and Other Health Conditions
  • Can Pet Insurance Provide Coverage for Kennel Cough?
    • Illness & Injury Plan
    • Accident-Only Plan
    • Wellness Plan
  • Conclusion paragraph
  • FAQs

What Is Kennel Cough?

Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC) is called “kennel cough.” It refers to contagious respiratory illness. A combination of viruses and bacteria affects a dog’s respiratory system, resulting in a hacking, gagging cough. Kennel cough spreads from dog to dog through droplets spewed in the air when a dog coughs (similar to how a cough or cold might spread between two humans).

Canine infectious respiratory complex can cause greater complications in dogs with pre-existing conditions.

Causes of Kennel Cough

Bacteria and viruses are the primary pathogens that often combine to cause kennel cough. These bacteria and viruses include:

  • Adenovirus type-2
  • Canine Parainfluenza-Sometimes called CPIV, this is a common virus that causes kennel cough. It causes symptoms similar to the flu.
  • Canine adenovirus – Also called CAV-2 causes respiratory diseases like kennel cough.
  • Bordetella brochiseptica (bacterium) – The most common bacteria that causes kennel cough. It causes inflammation in a dog’s upper respiratory tract.
  • Canine distemper – A contagious virus passed on through the air from one dog to another.

This disease can spread when several dogs are housed together in boarding facilities, animal shelters, or daycare sites. Kennel cough’s contagious bacteria can spread on food and water bowls, toys, or any objects dogs share. Other common places where dogs pick up kennel cough include:

  • Dog parks
  • Training facilities
  • Dog shows

Even though a dog’s immune system protects them from infection, certain circumstances cause them to be more vulnerable to getting sick. Such situations include factors such as:

  • Pre-existing health conditions
  • Old age
  • Stress on their body from poor ventilation, cigarette smoke, or cold temperatures.
  • Living in a crowded environment

Also, if you volunteer at an animal shelter or walk dogs, your dog can pick up the illness from a contaminated environment or your clothing. Once a dog is exposed to kennel cough, they may not show symptoms for two to fourteen days. Some dogs may even carry the infection without symptoms.

Symptoms and Signs of Kennel Cough

Symptoms of kennel cough include a runny nose, eye discharge, gagging and throwing up a white foam.

Dogs with kennel cough often act and look completely healthy. The most noticeable symptom is a honking, gagging cough. However, some dogs have other symptoms as the infection develops, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Eye discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Gagging or retching
  • Throwing up a white foamy substance

When a dog can’t fight off the infection, the infection produces more severe symptoms such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Low fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Rapid breathing

These may indicate the infection has spread into your dog’s lungs, causing bacterial pneumonia. Contact your vet if your dog displays these symptoms.

Diagnosing Kennel Cough

If your dog displays signs of kennel cough, it’s important to take them to your vet for a diagnosis. Kennel cough in puppies and senior dogs with pre-existing conditions can be serious, so be sure to get your dog seen by a vet early on to prevent possible complications.

There is no one test to diagnose kennel cough, but your vet will thoroughly examine your dog, checking for other causes of cough, such as a heart condition. The veterinarian might conduct a swab bacteria culture to determine the cause of the infection. It’s customary to swab the dog’s nose and throat and send it out for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to find the exact genetic material causing the infection. This test is affordable and doesn’t require your dog to be sedated. Other tests your vet might do to diagnose kennel cough include:

  • Complete blood work
  • Serum biochemistry profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Parasite test
  • Chest x-ray

If you suspect kennel cough, keep your dog away from other dogs because they can be contagious.

Treatment Options for Kennel Cough

The Bordatella vaccine can help protect your dog against kennel cough.

Because there’s no one treatment for kennel cough, there is a good chance your vet will seek to calm down your dog’s cough and allow their immune system to fight it. If their symptoms continue, your vet may prescribe antibiotics, such as doxycycline, to treat any secondary infection. They may also prescribe cough suppressants and send your dog home for supportive care, such as

  • Lots of fluids
  • Rest
  • Good nutrition

What is the cost of kennel cough treatment?

The cost of kennel cough treatment varies depending on the severity of the illness and the size of your dog. Generally, the cost of the exam and medications run anywhere from $200-$500. Here’s a breakdown of the costs you may incur if your dog gets kennel cough.

  • Vet exam-$45 to $55
  • Cough suppressants-$70
  • Doxycycline-For 30 tablets(100mg dose) costs $85. Liquids can run $85-$100
  • X-rays-$150-$200
  • PCR test-$38

Home Care for Dogs with Kennel Cough

After your dog has been diagnosed, you can care for them at home to help them recover from kennel cough. Here are some suggestions to help your dog feel more comfortable and heal quicker.

Walk them with a harness instead of by their collar

A harness helps reduce irritation on their windpipe since they may have inflammation in their throat.


Run a humidifier in your house to add moisture to the air and make breathing easier for your dog.

Add honey to warm water

This mixture eases your dog’s cough. Mix ½ tablespoon of honey with warm water in a bowl. Offer this to your dog three times a day.

Steam therapy

When you shower, let your dog into the closed bathroom (not in the shower). The steam will help reduce the irritation from the cough. It will also help loosen the cough.

Rest your dog

Reduce exercise so your dog gets some rest. Provide a clean blanket and toys. Lots of rest helps them heal and fight off the infection.

Wipe discharge from their eyes and nose

Using a damp towel, keep your dog’s nose and eyes clear. Be sure to wash the towel in between wipings.

Contact your vet if there is no improvement

Watch for signs that your dog’s cough is worsening or not improving. Contact your vet immediately if your dog isn’t improving after several days of treatment and home care.

Preventive Measures for Kennel Cough

The most common vaccination against Bordetella (kennel cough) protects against the bacteria that cause respiratory disease in dogs. It’s recommended that dogs that are at high risk for getting kennel cough if they’re

  • Exposed to other dogs in parks or around your neighborhood
  • Housed in a dog kennel facility
  • Go to doggie daycare
  • Play at dog parks

There are three forms of this vaccine. The vaccine can be given orally, through the nose, or injected under the skin. The Bordetella vaccine schedule and immunity vary depending on the vaccine. Puppies receive the vaccine at eight weeks.

Remember: No vaccine protects 100%. Vaccines offer some protection against respiratory illnesses like kennel cough, and they decrease the severity of the disease.

When to Seek Veterinary Attention

Watch for indications that your dog isn’t getting better, which could mean complications, such as a more severe infection. If you notice your dog seems to be getting worse rather than better, don’t hesitate to contact your vet. Watch for these red flags of a more severe infection.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Shallow breathing
  • Greenish-yellow discharge from your dog’s mouth or nose
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fever
  • Worse cough
  • Fatigue

Kennel Cough in Puppies and Senior Dogs

Puppies are at a greater risk than older dogs of catching a severe case of kennel cough because their immune systems are less developed.

Puppies are vulnerable to a more severe case of kennel cough because their immune systems are fully developed. Senior dogs have a decreased immune system, making them at risk for getting sicker with kennel cough. Be sure to vaccinate your puppy at 8 weeks of age and keep your senior dog up to date on their vaccinations to offset their risk of kennel cough.

Kennel Cough and Other Health Conditions

Dogs with pre-existing conditions contracting kennel cough are at a greater risk for complications.


Extreme cases of kennel cough may lead to pneumonia, causing inflammation and fluid in a dog’s lungs. It makes it hard for the dog to breathe. You may hear your dog wheeze or snore when they sleep if they have pneumonia. It’s treatable, but you should seek your vet’s care if you suspect your dog has pneumonia.

Other severe complications

If pneumonia isn’t treated, it can lead to sepsis or hypoxemia. Hypoxemia causes your dog’s oxygen levels to drop very low. Sepsis is a toxic bacteria that can travel throughout your dog’s bloodstream. Both conditions can lead to death if not treated right away.

Dogs with pre-existing conditions should be given antibiotics such as amoxicillin or doxycycline to help fight the bacterial aspects of kennel cough. Your vet will also prescribe a cough suppressant and expectorant to ease your dog’s cough.

Can Pet Insurance Provide Coverage for Kennel Cough?

Odie Pet Insurance can help offset the costs veterinary treatments when your dog gets sick.

Pet insurance helps offset the costs of treating kennel cough, including everything from the diagnostic exam to the treatments. Pet insurance allows you to give your dog the best care possible without a high cost.

Illness & Injury Plan – This plan offers the best comprehensive care. Averaging around $45 a month, you can choose what you need for your pet. The illness and injury plan covers accidents and illness. Your dog will be covered with a

  • 24/7 veterinarian chat
  • Support team
  • A wide range of health services provided
  • Quick claims processing
  • Short waiting times

Accident-Only Plan – This plan covers accidental injury for as little as twenty-five cents a day. Accident-only covers most emergency vet care visits. It’s affordable and ideal for

  • First-time pet parents
  • If you’re on a tight budget
  • Covers dogs and cats with pre-existing conditions

Wellness Plan – This add-on plan helps give your pet the best coverage. As an add-on to any insurance policy, a Wellness plan will ensure your pet gets the routine care they need. It’s not an insurance plan but an add-on to help lower the costs of pet care for routine care, such as

  • Flea and tick meds
  • Microchipping
  • Vaccinations


Kennel cough is a regular respiratory illness that affects dogs, especially those in crowded environments. Kennel cough’s classic symptom is a gagging or honking type of cough. Healthy dogs usually recover from kennel cough in a couple of weeks, but puppies and seniors with pre-existing complications can get more severe illnesses such as pneumonia. Prevent your dog from contracting kennel cough with regular vaccinations. Although not 100% effective in preventing kennel cough, vaccinated dogs recover quicker and have fewer complications. Pet insurance helps offset the costs of diagnosing, treating, and vaccinating your dog against kennel cough.


How Serious Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is most serious in puppies or senior dogs with pre-existing conditions. Otherwise, dogs recover from the illness.

What Are the Stages of Kennel Cough?

After exposure, symptoms show up around three to five days. On average, kennel cough can last for one to two weeks.

How Quickly Does Kennel Cough Go Away?

Kennel Cough goes away 10 to 14 days after exposure to the illness.

Can I Leave My Dog Alone with Kennel Cough?

If your dog seems to be improving from kennel cough, leaving them alone is fine.

Can Humans Catch Kennel Cough?

Unless someone has a pre-existing medical condition like lung cancer or HIV, they are at risk for getting kennel cough. But if you’re healthy, you’re unlikely to get the illness.

Can Humans Carry Kennel Cough?

In rare cases, kennel cough can be transmitted from dogs to people.

Can Kennel Cough Last 1 Day?

Even a mild case of kennel cough lasts six days. But normally, the illness lasts anywhere from ten days to two weeks.

Does Kennel Cough Hurt Dogs?

Kennel cough isn’t serious for most healthy dogs. It will clear up over time. The cough may take longer to go away than the infection. Once the infection has passed, your dog will feel fine and act happy.

Can I Still Cuddle with My Dog with Kennel Cough?

There is a low risk of you getting kennel cough from your dog unless you are ill or have a weak immune system. But it’s best not to cuddle with your dog to protect you and your dog.

Can Dogs Sleep with Kennel Cough?

When dogs have kennel coughs, they usually sleep a lot, which helps their body heal.

How long is Kennel Cough contagious?

Your dog can be contagious anywhere from ten to fourteen days. If they have a more severe case,  it can last for weeks.

Should I keep my dog home from the park if it has kennel cough?

Your dog is still contagious even if their cough is gone.

Share this