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Developed in collaboration with Andrea Johnson, DVM | Co-Founder | PetVet365
Last reviewed: December 14, 2023
In a healthy dog, kennel cough (also known as honking cough) usually clears up within 3 weeks. But for senior dogs and dogs with other medical conditions, a kennel cough can linger for up to 6 weeks.
When the bacterium bordetella bronchiseptica causes the infection, kennel cough rarely lasts more than 10 days.
It is possible for kennel cough to develop into pneumonia. So, keep an eye on your dog’s symptoms and contact your veterinarian if your dog’s condition doesn’t improve within 3 to 4 weeks. You should also contact your veterinarian if your pet has more symptoms than just a cough. Lack of appetite, fever or lethargy are all signs that the disease is not just simple kennel cough.
Kennel cough is a common respiratory tract infection that most dogs will likely catch at least once in their lives. The incubation period for kennel cough – the time between exposure to an infection and the appearance of the first symptoms – is between 2 and 14 days. During this time, the dog will be contagious. Some dogs can be carriers for months without showing symptoms.
Now that you know how long kennel cough lasts, let’s take a look at the symptoms, causes, and treatment of kennel cough in dogs so you know what to expect.
Kennel cough is a broad term for a type of highly contagious bronchitis in dogs called canine infectious tracheobronchitis. The infection attacks cells in the respiratory system, which weakens the mucus coating on the dog’s respiratory tract, inflaming its trachea (windpipe), larynx (voice box) and bronchia. This inflammation results in a harsh, hacking cough.
Dogs contract kennel cough from being around other infected dogs, often from being boarded in a dog kennel or an animal shelter, which is how it gets its name. However, your dog can pick up kennel cough anywhere it comes in contact with another dog, like doggy daycare, the dog park, sharing toys or a water bowl, or even on your daily walk around the neighborhood.
Kennel cough is a common respiratory tract infection in dogs caused by various viruses and bacteria, oftentimes simultaneously. These include:
The most common source of kennel cough is the bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium, which is why it is often referred to as simply bordetella. When a combination of bacteria or microorganisms causes kennel cough, it is generally referred to as canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC). The broad term “kennel cough” encompasses all of these.
The symptoms of kennel cough vary depending on the severity of the infection and the overall health of the dog. Loud, hoarse coughing is a tell-tale symptom. It is often described as sounding like a goose honk, like the dog has something stuck in its throat, or like a reverse sneeze. In addition to the persistent dry cough, other symptoms may include:
Most dog's immune systems can fight off the infection on their own, but there are ways you can help speed up your dog's recovery:
Kennel cough can leave dogs vulnerable to secondary infections and possibly lead to pneumonia which can be life threatening. Puppies, older dogs, and dogs with compromised immune systems should be monitored more closely. Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following:
Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to kill the bordetella bacteria, cough suppressants like dextromethorphan, or corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatories to help reduce inflammation if it is severe or long-lasting.
Your veterinarian may prescribe a customized, compounded medication. These medications are mixed by trained, licensed compounding pharmacists and often come in dosage forms designed to make giving or applying the medication easier and more accurate.
There is such a wide range of strains of bacteria and viruses that cause kennel cough that preventing it outright is difficult, but veterinarians still recommend getting your dog vaccinated.
There is a vaccine against the main bacterial cause, bordetella, that comes in injection or nasal vaccine form. There also are vaccinations that offer protection against some of the viruses, including canine influenza, canine distemper, canine parainfluenza virus, and canine adenovirus type-2.
Like the flu shot in humans, these vaccines provide some immunity from the infection and reduce symptom severity if your dog does get it, which is especially important for puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with other underlying conditions.
Contact your veterinarian. Typically, mild cases of kennel cough are treated with a week or two of rest, but your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to prevent a secondary infection or cough medication to ease the symptoms. If your dog is still a puppy, is immunocompromised, has other underlying conditions like a collapsing trachea, or is older, the chance of a secondary infection increases.
Symptoms of kennel cough usually take 3-5 days to develop after exposure. The classic honking, hacking cough which is often followed by a big retch at the end, lasts for one to two weeks in an average case in a healthy dog.
Most dogs will be able to fight off the disease without veterinary intervention. However, there is the potential to develop into something worse, such as pneumonia. It is always best to have the dog seen by a veterinarian.
Kennel cough itself is not fatal. In rare cases, the virus could lead to bronchopneumonia in puppies and chronic bronchitis in senior or immunocompromised dogs, so it is very important to get your dog checked by a veterinarian.
Whether your dog acquires immunity from a vaccine or a natural infection, it does not last long. Consult with your veterinarian for a recommendation based on your dog’s specific circumstances, like if your pet goes to doggy daycare or a boarding kennel often. Most facilities require a booster vaccination before boarding, and some veterinarians recommend a booster vaccine every six months to ensure maximum protection against infection.
According to the vaccination guidelines established by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the oral or intranasal form of the bordetella vaccine can be administered as early as 8 weeks of age and can be boosted 2-4 weeks later. The injectable form is typically administered as early as 8 weeks of age with a booster given 4 weeks later. It is recommended that adult dogs that frequent daycare or boarding facilities be vaccinated every 6-12 months.
Bordetella vaccination is given by injection, orally, or in nasal mist form. The oral vaccine is administered directly into the cheek pouch. This allows local immunity to develop on the mucous membranes of the nose, throat, and windpipe where the infectious agents first attack and provides more rapid protection against infection than the injectable vaccine.
There isn’t a specific test for kennel cough. If your dog has symptoms and they have been in contact with other dogs during the incubation period, it’s a good chance it’s kennel cough. Your veterinarian may take swab samples to determine if the cause is viral or bacterial related, but that generally does not affect treatment options.
Yes, dogs can get kennel cough more than once because there are a variety of strains. Dogs can build some immunity to one strain, only to be infected with another. If it is caused by bordetella bronchiseptica, your dog should be immune for around 6 to 12 months.
There are some natural treatments you can try at home to make your dog more comfortable. If you live in a dry environment, increase humidity levels in your home. You can do this with a humidifier or, if that is not practical, turn your shower into a steam bath and let your dog sit in the bathroom for a while. This may decrease the severity of symptoms.
Honey has antimicrobial and antifungal properties and can help reduce the inflammation in your dog’s throat. One-half to one tablespoon (depending on the size of your dog) of honey mixed with warm water in a bowl should offer some relief. You can do this up to three times a day until symptoms resolve.
Yes, but be careful. Benadryl is relatively safe but not well absorbed when given orally in dogs. Contact your veterinarian and follow their instructions. They will suggest a dose specific to your dog’s weight. Be certain that you measure the dose accurately.
Contact your veterinarian and follow their instructions. Most over the counter medications for coughing have ingredients that are not pet safe. The vast array of formulas make choosing a safe medication very difficult.
This article is meant to provide general and not medical advice. We strongly recommend that a veterinarian be consulted for the specific medical needs of your animal.
VCA Animal Hospitals
Andrea Johnson, DVM, is co-founder of PetVet365, a franchise company that creates new veterinary practices around entrepreneur owners determined to reinvent the animal healthcare profession and to offer the highest quality care for pets and their families.
She began her career as an associate veterinarian with a practice in Kentucky and eventually became owner and chief medical officer for 15 Banfield Pet Hospital franchises in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, with 75 veterinarians on her team. She was a veterinary consultant for LegacyVet and a self-employed consultant prior to co-founding PetVet365.
She holds a BS degree in biology from Marshall University, an MS degree in Biology and Biological Sciences from Marshall University, and a DVM degree from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
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