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Kennel Cough in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Keep your four-legged love protected from kennel cough with this helpful guide! In it, you'll learn about the symptoms, causes and treatments for this highly contagious respiratory infection.

Written by Raquel Astacio. Published in March 2023.

Experienced pet owners can spot kennel cough - or, more accurately, hear it - from a mile away. But knowing how best to control the symptoms and spread of this viral respiratory illness is another story. 

In this blog post, we will take an in-depth look at kennel cough - what it is, how it’s spread, and who is at risk (spoiler alert: the answer is everyone). We will also examine some of the most helpful home remedies for kennel cough in dogs before discussing the do’s and don’ts of treatment and prevention. Let’s get started! 

What is Kennel Cough in Dogs?

The term “kennel cough” is used as a nickname for a highly-contagious respiratory disease called Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC). This viral condition is a form of infectious bronchitis that causes inflammation of an infected dog’s trachea and bronchioles, which usually results in a dry, hacking cough.

A variety of microorganisms can cause this viral disease, the most common being the Bordetella Bronchiseptica bacteria. Kennel cough usually spreads when an uninfected dog breathes in the secretions of an infected one, and severity can range from mild to severe, depending on your pet’s overall health. While most dogs will recover quickly and without much intervention, others will be at risk for developing secondary conditions like pneumonia.

Kennel Cough Symptoms in Dogs

The most common symptom of kennel cough is a persistent dry, hacking cough, though there can be a variety of other signs as well, including:

  • Retching with the production of white foam or bile
  • Violent episodes of coughing overnight
  • Tracheal sensitivity

More severe cases of kennel cough may develop into secondary pneumonia, which can make a dog feel much more ill at ease. Symptoms in this scenario may include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy or loss of energy
  • Labored breathing 
  • Loss of appetite

How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

Even the healthiest dogs are susceptible to kennel cough. This contagious respiratory infection is spread through aerosolized bacteria or viruses released into the air. A healthy dog can easily inhale these airborne particles when near an infectious dog, especially in crowded areas with poor airflow and warm humidity. 

In the majority of cases, dogs will obtain kennel cough after spending time in an area frequented by other dogs, such as:

  • Boarding kennels
  • Doggy daycares
  • Grooming facilities
  • Dog parks
  • Animal shelters
  • Veterinary clinics

Though nose-to-nose contact with an infected dog is the primary cause of transmission, kennel cough has also been known to travel on objects like toys and food bowls if not properly sterilized.

Kennel Cough Treatment for Dogs

Most cases of kennel cough resolve spontaneously and without additional support, though there are a few things that pet parents can do to ease the healing process. 

For Mild-to-Moderate Cases of Kennel Cough

Mild to moderate cases of kennel cough typically resolve independently without much intervention from owners or a veterinarian. In these cases, supportive care may be entirely sufficient for recovery. 

Since tracheal palpation can easily cause a bout of coughing, owners should be cautious when pulling on their dog’s collar. Instead, purchasing a harness for your pet to use while he is recovering may be wise. Harnesses focus pressure on the chest and shoulders versus on the neck and will be much more comfortable for your pup to use. 

Additionally, pet parents can help their dog to recover quickly by restricting their activity, allowing for plenty of rest - an essential component of healing for any condition! And if your dog’s coughing fits are really violent, your veterinarian can help by prescribing a cough suppressant. 

Dogs with mild cases of kennel cough should recover within one to two weeks. 

For Severe Cases of Kennel Cough

When a run-of-the-mill case of kennel cough progresses into something more severe, it can put your pup in a precarious position! While most standard cases of kennel cough will resolve without complication, others can potentially progress into pneumonia - a much more serious, potentially life-threatening condition!

The primary concern in cases of this nature is your dog’s ability to take in an appropriate amount of oxygen. Heavy coughing fits are one thing - but if your pup’s tongue turns purple and he’s struggling to breathe, it may be time to get your veterinarian involved. 

Treatment for severe cases of kennel cough or pneumonia typically involves hospitalization with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and even oxygen therapy to make your pup more comfortable! But be warned: the cost of treatments like this can be well over $1K if your pet needs to be hospitalized for several days. 

Home Remedies for Kennel Cough in Dogs

As we’ve learned, most cases of kennel cough will resolve spontaneously and without much assistance from owners or their veterinarians. However, there are some at-home remedies pet parents can turn to to make an infected dog more comfortable. 

Honey with Warm Water

Keep your pup feeling better with a spoonful of sweet relief! Honey is an excellent remedy for kennel cough, easing the throat and helping reduce coughing. Simply mix one tablespoon of honey in a cup of warm water and offer it up three times daily.

Humidifiers and Steam Therapy

Give your pup a boost of soothing relief with the help of steam therapy! This can be done by placing a small humidifier near your pet while they rest or by taking them in the bathroom while a hot shower’s running. The moisture-filled air will nourish their respiratory system and ease any irritation.


Probiotics are an often overlooked but vital asset for treating kennel cough in dogs. By boosting the immune system with beneficial bacteria, probiotics play a major role in fending off dangerous complications that could arise from this condition - like life-threatening pneumonia! And if your veterinarian prescribes an antibiotic to help kick kennel cough to the curb, probiotics are a helpful way to restore balance in your pup’s gut afterward. 

Rest and Relaxation

Excitement and overstimulation can quickly trigger a coughing fit, so keeping your pup quiet and calm while he recovers is important. Creating a cozy and tranquil space with plenty of blankets, a comfy pet bed, and snuggles from you can help your dog get some much-needed rest. You can also help ease your pup’s congestion by giving them a pet-safe heating pad to snuggle up on or by running their blanket through the dryer before nap time. 

Pro Tip: Give your pup a natural boost to their recovery with Melatonin. These helpful supplements are designed to help even the most excitable dogs relax so that they get the rest they need while fighting off kennel cough - an all-natural way of speeding up the healing process!

What NOT to Give Your Dog for Kennel Cough 

Many people turn to the internet for advice on treating kennel cough, but it is important to be aware that not all of these recommendations are safe and can often do more harm than good. Let us examine some commonly suggested remedies for canine coughing which should NOT be used. 


Garlic is revered for its health benefits in human medicine, but it is poisonous to our four-legged friends. Consuming large amounts of garlic can be hazardous and can cause severe gastrointestinal distress as well as red blood cell damage. 

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has been widely embraced by naturalists for its perceived wellness benefits (and apparent culinary enhancement). But despite this enthusiasm, there is no evidence that coconut oil is effective in treating kennel cough or in soothing its symptoms. Furthermore, because many dogs do not process fat well, tropical oils that are high in calories (like coconut oil) may do more harm than good. 

Human Cough Medicine

Giving your pup an over-the-counter cough medicine may seem like a quick and easy way to help reduce their cough, but it's crucial for pet owners to be aware of the hidden dangers involved. For starters, many human cough medications contain Xylitol - an artificial sweetener that can be extremely toxic for pets, even in small doses.

Other common ingredients used in human cough medication include caffeine (for an energy boost), acetaminophen (for pain relief), and pseudoephedrine (a decongestant). Each of these ingredients is extremely hazardous to dogs and will make them seriously ill if consumed.  Therefore, it's best to stick with pet-safe medications when treating your dog's kennel cough instead of reaching for what’s in your medicine cabinet.

Recovery and Prevention of Kennel Cough in Dogs

In most cases, symptoms of kennel cough will start to clear after one or two weeks. During this recovery period, pet parents should be careful to avoid airborne irritants such as cigarette smoke or household cleaners, which can irritate your pup’s respiratory system and slow down recovery time.

Protecting your pup from kennel cough requires vigilance, especially since this virus can be contracted in all places where groups of dogs gather - dog parks, daycare centers, and more. When it comes to prevention, pet parents should be sure to keep their dogs up to date with an annual Bordetella vaccine - the kennel cough vaccine for dogs! This vaccine is typically given intranasally (through the nose) or orally and can help protect your pup from the most common strain of kennel cough, Bordetella Bronchiseptica

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the Bordetella vaccine, as with any vaccination, is not 100% foolproof. Though it is still possible for your pet to contract kennel cough despite being vaccinated, his symptoms will surely be less severe because of it.

Pro Tip: If you plan to board your pet in a kennel during an upcoming trip or vacation, make sure your pup gets his Bordetella vaccine at least 72 hours prior to drop-off. 

FAQs About Kennel Cough in Dogs

“Can kennel cough kill a dog?”

Fatality rates for kennel cough are very low, though some dogs are more at risk than others, such as: 

  • Young puppies that have not yet been fully vaccinated
  • Older dogs with weak immune systems or chronic illnesses (such as diabetes, heart issues, or cancer)
  • Pregnant or nursing dogs
  • Dogs with pre-existing respiratory conditions (such as chronic bronchitis or tracheal collapse)
  • Brachycephalic or “smush-faced” dog breeds (such as French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and Bulldogs)

Dogs in this “high risk” category are much more susceptible to potential complications from kennel cough, such as the development of secondary pneumonia, which has a much higher fatality rate! 

“Is kennel cough contagious to other dogs?”

Yes, kennel cough is highly contagious to other dogs. It is an airborne viral respiratory illness that can spread quickly among animals living in close quarters, like a kennel or doggy daycare. When one dog contracts the virus, it can very easily spread among the others via coughing and sneezing. Even if you do not see any symptoms in your dog or signs of coughing or sneezing, it's possible that they may still be carrying and transmitting the virus. 

"How long is a dog contagious with kennel cough?"

The incubation period for kennel cough ranges from two to ten days after exposure, meaning that the dog may be contagious before showing any actual signs of infection. Once symptoms appear, shedding of the virus can go on for one to three weeks afterward.

“Can humans get kennel cough from dogs?”

There are many different strains of kennel cough, each with its own unique risk factors, symptoms, and transmission rates. The Bordetella Bronchiseptica strand is the most dangerous to humans, but it typically affects only people with extremely weak immune systems and is unlikely to spread from animals.

Even so, it is often safer to keep dogs infected with kennel cough away from babies and small children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people suffering from diseases or cancer treatments.


Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness that all dogs are susceptible to, regardless of age, gender, or breed. Thankfully, it is rarely fatal and will, in most cases, resolve quickly with plenty of rest and supportive care. To prevent the spread of this unpleasant illness, owners should keep their pets current on all standard vaccinations and be mindful of their pet's environment - including those factors that put some dogs at greater risk than others.

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