Your Dog & Kennel Cough

If you ever board your dog or purchase the services of a professional groomer you may already know about kennel cough. Many pet professionals require vaccinations against kennel cough before your pet can be boarded, play at doggy daycare or be groomed within the same environment as other canines. There is far more to kennel cough, though, than most pet owners know. It is important to your dog that you learn all you can about it, including symptoms, diagnosis, treatments and preventions.

What is kennel cough?

The term kennel cough is often loosely and commonly used to describe any viral and bacterial infections, secondary infections and all their symptoms that are highly communicable and causes a dog to cough and sneeze seemingly uncontrollably. Most commonly it is a mixture of canine para-influenza combined with a bacterial infection or tracheobronchitis. However, there are an incredibly large number of strains of both virus and bacteria just like the common rhino virus in humans. This causes swelling and irritation in the dog’s windpipe, lungs, and voice box that make his cough painful and irritating to him. Sometimes this is a respiratory infection that can turn into a serious problem such as pneumonia if not treated quickly.

Any dog of any age, breed or size can contract kennel cough, but is very rarely ever fatal. Typically it runs its course without any major problems outside of your dog feeling miserable. Puppies and seniors, though, may be more susceptible as well as other canines that may have weaker immune systems.

Kennel cough is most commonly picked up by your dog from other dogs he’s been around, such as in a boarding facility or pet groomer. It is even easily picked up in your veterinarian’s waiting room, as other sick dogs pass through this area on a daily basis. Mostly, it is passed through the air, so even frequenting a dog park can put your pooch at risk.

The Symptoms

You probably will not notice any symptoms until about 3 to 4 days after your dog has been exposed to the virus, as it must first incubate within his body. When the symptoms start, though, it is unmistakable as your dog begins having a nagging, heaving cough, sneeze and is obviously in discomfort. These coughs are dry and harsh, and often lead to dry heaving. You may also see snorting, gagging and even vomiting from the irritation in your dog’s throat.

Exercise and excitement can make his symptoms worse, just as a human with a chest cold can cough and gasp for air when too much activity has taken place. Sometimes a dog may get a fever as his body attempts to fight the bacterial infection, making him feel even worse. Symptoms can last between 10 and 20 days, but can start again after what seems to be a break through if he is stressed.

Treatment Options

When you take your dog to the vet after seeing his nagging, dry cough you may be surprised to find that the vet only spends a few moments with him before giving a diagnosis. The illness is so common and symptoms so obvious that all it takes is for a vet to hear your story and learn if the dog has been in a place where other dogs frequent, a quick listen to the lungs and know that the dog has kennel cough.

There is no real cure for kennel cough. This in part to it primarily being a virus and also in that there are too many strains to know which one you are up against with a sick dog. When brought to the vet, most dogs will be put on a round of broad spectrum antibiotics to help clear out the secondary infections and also to prevent the onset of pneumonia, which is a bacterial infection leading to fluid in the lungs. If the dog’s coughing leads to no expression of phlegm, which is how the virus can be shed from the body, he may be given a cough suppressant to help ease his pain and discomfort, giving his throat some time to heal from the irritation. The illness has to run its course through the body, but you can help your dog be rid of infections and discomfort during this time.

Natural treatments have begun to spring up more and more with homeopathic veterinarians and dog owners who don’t want to expose their dog to harsh antibiotics. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, it depends on the chosen treatment, the severity of the illness and the dog itself. A safe and effective mixture of honey and coconut oil seems to be picking up dramatic popularity as the combination both soothes the dog’s throat and acts as a cleansing agent. The honey itself is antibacterial, anti-fungal and antimicrobial. According to The Whole Dog Journal, manuka honey seems to have the strongest effect on the symptoms of kennel cough in dogs of all ages.

With the honey and coconut oil mixture, there is no one specific dosage for any dog size, and you cannot over dose your dog on it as you can with cough suppressants and antibiotics. This alone makes it an attractive option to keep a dog with kennel cough comfortable while the virus runs its course. Considering you can purchase the two items easily at virtually any grocery or health food store, it can also save money on expensive medications from a vet.

Other natural remedies to the symptoms of kennel cough consist of making a safe herbal tea for your dog from the leaves of sage, thyme, and elder blossom. The tea should be steeped, not brewed, and left to sit and infuse with the leaves until it is room temperature. At that point it will be strong and at the medicinal levels your dog needs it while being a safe temperature for them to ingest it. The tea can be given straight if your dog will drink it or mixed with some food or chicken broth. Fresh, chopped garlic also provides a natural antibiotic that can be given as a way to combat those secondary infections that could plague a dog with a weakened immune system. Half a clove, chopped and left to sit for 5 minutes at room temperature will activate it’s antibiotic properties.


While there is no cure, there is prevention. Bordetella vaccinations offer some minor protection against kennel cough, but it certainly does not protect a dog fully. The para-influenza virus vaccine is typically given as a core vaccine for young puppies, and if yearly titers are conducted could protect the dog for his life time! Speak with your veterinarian and do your own research on the protection vaccinations offer before making any decisions that can affect your dog’s health.

According to Shelly Hawkins, avoiding places in which dogs are kept in close quarters with poor ventilation will be your best defense against you dog contracting kennel cough. If you use a professional grooming service, doggy daycare or board your pet, check the ventilation system, how close the dogs are allowed to each other and the cleanliness of the facility. Areas should be cleaned after another dog has used them with a virus and bacterial killing cleaning solution. Ventilation should allow plenty of air circulation so that communicable diseases are less likely to get trapped in your dog’s air space.

Don’t Stress Out!

If your dog comes down with kennel cough, keep stress at a minimum for the both of you! If you worry too much, your dog will sense your anxiety and will also become worried. His worry will raise his blood pressure, causing him to breathe heavier and cough more! Remember that this is not a deadly disease, and if you can watch out for secondary infections and keep your pooch comfortable, the disease will run its course and all will be back to normal within 20 days or less.

The virus will continue to shed from your dog for up to 14 days after his symptoms have disappeared, so it is important that you keep this in mind even when your canine companion is feeling better. Stay away from dog parks to keep others from enduring the same distress, and don’t board your dog or have him groomed in a facility until this time has passed. Do your part as a responsible dog owner and stop the passing of the virus by avoiding places that other dogs frequent. Keep your dog relaxed, comfortable, and wait it out!