Kennel Cough: Causes and Treatments
If your dog develops a distinctive cough along with other classic signs of illness—such as sneezing or a low fever—it's possible that your dog is battling a case of kennel cough. This respiratory condition, which is highly contagious, is typically caused by the bordetella bacterium, and can be a great source of discomfort for your dog—and worry for any owners monitoring their care.
While healthy dogs are unlikely to face a life-threatening situation resulting from their kennel cough, the condition still requires treatment and careful monitoring for complications that may necessitate a trip to the emergency vet. Whether your dog is dealing with a case of kennel cough now or is at risk of exposure, it's important for dog owners to understand the causes of kennel cough, and what you can do to support your dog's health and recovery from this infection.
What Does Kennel Cough Sound Like?
The kennel cough sound a dog makes when coughing will be much different from other coughing sounds you may have heard your dog make in the past. Kennel cough typically produces a violent hacking or "honking" sound, making it easy to identify even before you visit a vet to receive an official diagnosis.
Because kennel cough is an infection in your dog's windpipe, the sound and/or frequency of this coughing may become more intense during periods of heightened activity, such as when playing or going for a walk.
How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?
When treated, the kennel cough infection itself may only last a few days before your dog is no longer actively infected and contagious to others. However, the cough itself can persist for days or even weeks after the illness has ended. If your dog's cough doesn't go away after a few weeks, consult your vet to determine if an additional appointment is needed to determine why the cough is persisting so long.
Can Cats Get Kennel Cough?
Yes. While kennel cough is typically more prevalent among dogs, cats may also be susceptible to this illness. Other household pets, such as rabbits, guinea pigs and mice, may also develop kennel cough.
Similar to dogs, this condition is usually only life-threatening in cats that are very young, very old, or already dealing with a compromised immune system.
Is Kennel Cough Contagious to Humans?
Although human cases of kennel cough is rare, it is possible for people to become infected with this illness. Most cases of kennel cough in humans are found in cases where a person already has a compromised immune system—particularly an illness affecting their lungs, as well as HIV or other conditions that directly weaken the immune system.
Is There a Kennel Cough Vaccine?
Fortunately, the bordetella bacterium most commonly associated with kennel cough can be prevented by keeping up on your dog's vaccinations. Many dog boarding facilities, doggie daycares, and groomers—as well as airlines where your dog is traveling—will require proof of up-to-date vaccinations before admitting your pet into their facilities.
Dogs will receive their first bordetella vaccine while still a puppy. After that, bordetella boosters will be recommended by your vet every six to 12 months, depending on your dog's exposure risk. If you regularly board your dog or take it to a doggy daycare, for example—of if your dog is already immunocompromised—your vet might recommend a more aggressive booster schedule to maximize your dog's protection against kennel cough.
Are There Home Remedies for Kennel Cough?
While bacterial cases of kennel cough can be treated through antibiotics—which are highly effective, and can alleviate your dog's infection within days—you can support kennel cough treatment at home through several different lifestyle changes and home remedies, including:
- Walking your dog with a harness, rather than a collar. Clipping a leash to a collar can put pressure on your dog's windpipe and aggravate its cough.
- Honey. While you should always consult your vet before giving your dog any health supplement, local honey is naturally antibiotic and can soothe your dog's cough.
- Rest. While your dog is working to recover from its kennel cough, you might want to reduce their amount of exercise and encourage rest to heal their throat.
The loud sounds created by kennel cough can raise the blood pressure of dog owners worried about the well-being of their beloved pet. While most cases of kennel cough are not nearly as harmful to your dog as they sound, it's important to keep a close eye on your dog—especially if they are already in poor health—and to stay in touch with your vet to make sure their health and recovery are properly supported throughout this illness.