Kennel cough in dogs

If your dog has been spending time with other dogs and now has a cough that sounds like either a goose honking or something is stuck in their throat, then it’s possible that they may have kennel cough. So what is kennel cough, how do dogs catch it, is it dangerous and what should you do if you think your dog is affected?

A summary of kennel cough

  • Kennel cough is a type of infection that usually causes a persistent hacking cough that can sound like a goose’s honk
  • If you think your dog is affected then you should phone your vet for advice
  • Kennel cough is not dangerous to most dogs, but can be more serious to young puppies, older dogs and dogs with underlying health conditions
  • Most healthy dogs recover on their own without any veterinary treatment
  • Kennel cough is highly contagious and if your dog is affected then you should keep them away from other dogs
  • You can have your dog vaccinated against the most common cause of kennel cough and this may be required if your dog stays in kennels or spends time with lots of dogs from different households (e.g. doggy day-cares)

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is a respiratory infection that can be caused by a number of different viruses and bacteria and is easily spread between dogs. This infection causes a dog’s voice box and windpipe to become inflamed and makes the dog cough. Kennel cough is not dangerous to most dogs, but is more severe in young puppies, older dogs and some dogs with underlying health conditions.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

Most affected dogs will develop a persistent hacking cough that can sound like something is stuck in their throat or like the “honk” of a goose.

Signs of kennel cough can develop from as early as a few days to two weeks after being exposed and can last for one to three weeks.

Apart from a cough, most dogs are usually otherwise fine. Some dogs may also show other signs, including:
  • Sneezing
  • A runny nose
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Not wanting to eat
  • A higher temperature
  • Less energy than usual

How do dogs get kennel cough?

Kennel cough can easily be passed on to other dogs and can be spread through airborne droplets from coughing, by touching other infected dogs or from touching other items and surfaces that have been contaminated by infected dogs (i.e. toys or food/water bowls). Dogs are most commonly known for catching these infections during their time in kennels, hence the name ‘kennel cough’, but they can catch it anywhere there are groups of dogs in close contact (i.e. at doggy day-care, training groups etc.)

How dangerous is kennel cough?

Any dog can develop kennel cough. Most dogs will develop a persistent hacking cough but will remain otherwise healthy. Although it may be uncomfortable or unpleasant for your dog, it is not normally dangerous. However, for young puppies, older dogs and dogs with underlying health conditions, kennel cough can be much more serious and it can develop into pneumonia.

What is the incubation period?

Signs of kennel cough can develop from as early as a few days to two weeks after being exposed and can last for one to three weeks. Although it is rare, some dogs can be carriers of kennel cough for months without any signs of infection.

What should I do if I think my dog has kennel cough?

If you think your dog has kennel cough then call your vet for advice. There are a number of conditions that can cause coughing, so it’s always best to contact your veterinary practice for advice. Kennel cough is highly contagious, so do not take your dog to the vets without consulting the practice first. Kennel cough can lead to pneumonia in some dogs, so if your dog doesn’t get better in the time you expect them to, or their condition worsens, then contact your vet for advice.

If your dog does have kennel cough then you should keep them away from other dogs to prevent spreading the infection further.

How long is kennel cough contagious?

Although it depends on your dog, most dogs recover from kennel cough within three weeks. For some older dogs or dogs with underlying health issues recovery can take up to six weeks and, very rarely, some dogs can be carriers of kennel cough for months without any signs of infection.

How can I look after a dog with kennel cough?

Make sure your dog stays hydrated, well rested and give them plenty of love and attention. Exercise may make your dog’s cough worse, so speak to your vet for the best advice on how to look after your dog.

Can my dog get kennel cough more than once?

Yes. Kennel cough can be caused by a number of different viruses and bacteria, so dogs can be infected more than once, depending on when they were last infected and what caused the infection.

How can I prevent my dog from getting kennel cough?

You can get your dog vaccinated against the most common bacteria to cause kennel cough. You may wish to get your dog vaccinated if they spend a lot of time with other dogs, such as staying in kennels. Some services for your dog, including day-care or dog walkers, will require this prior to taking on your dog, so be sure to check this with them. This vaccination can’t guarantee protection against kennel cough, but it does reduce the chance of your dog being affected. Speak to your vet about the vaccine and whether it’s right for your dog.

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

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