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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Kennel Cough (Acute tracheobronchitis)




Condition Overview

Kennel cough is, not one, but a group of highly contagious respiratory diseases of dogs that spread rapidly through a kennel or other area where many dogs are kept in close quarters. In most cases kennel cough is a mild disease. Kennel cough may be complicated by secondary bacterial pneumonia.


A harsh, dry, hacking cough is the characteristic sign of a tracheobronchitis infection. The cough is unproductive and is often accompanied by gagging and retching. The cough may persist for many weeks and become a chronic problem as the virus is replaced by secondary bacterial invaders.

Except for the cough, the dog is bright and alert, and has a good appetite and normal temperature.


Several viruses and bacteria alone or in combination, can cause the disease. The organisms most frequently involved are canine parainfluenza virus and the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica. Canine adenovirus types CAV-1 and CAV-2, as well as canine herpesvirus, canine distemper, and mycoplasma, are other causes of kennel cough.

The disease is transmitted by droplets coughed into the air by dogs actively suffering from the illness. Fairly close contact between dogs is necessary for its transmission, such as a nose to nose greeting through the wire by dogs in kennels. Another common cause is dogs meeting at shows, competitions, or training classes.


Like people, dogs may simply cough now and then. Vets have a simple trick for distinguishing a harmless cough from a possibly serious infection like kennel cough.

Press gently on the front of the dogs throat, if they have kennel cough, they will go into a coughing spasm, if not, they will most likely not cough. The virus particularly likes to irritate the lining of the trachea.


With rest and a stress-free environment, most adult dogs recover completely in 7-14 days. Keeping the dog quiet will speed the recovery. Kennel cough should be treated by a vet. Isolate the dog to prevent spreading the disease.

The quarters should be warm, dry, and well ventilated. Humidification is beneficial. A cool mist vaporizer offers some advantage over a heat vaporizer, because it is less likely to add excessive heat to the atmosphere. Moderate daily exercise is beneficial to the extent that it assists bronchial drainage. Strenuous exertion off leash should be avoided. If your dog drags against a collar, use a head halter or body harness.

Antibiotics are routinely used to treat kennel cough. The drugs of choice are the tetracyclines and trimethoprimsulfa. Continue the antibiotics for 7-10 days. Excessive coughing is controlled with cough suppressants which contain dextromethorphan, such as Vicks 44D or Robitussin - make sure the product does not contain acetaminophen, which can be dangerous to dogs. 2 teaspoons to a dog over 40lbs, 1 teaspoon to dogs 20lbs, 1/2 teaspoon for dogs under 20lbs. Check with your vet for the perfect dosage for your pet. Dogs with severe tracheobronchitis or pneumonia must be hospitalized and treated intensively with intramuscular or intravenous antibiotics and drugs that dilate the breathing passages.


Immunizing your dog with parainfluenza, bordetella, and CAV-2 vaccines (when incorporated into the routine immunizations) will decrease the prevalence and severity of kennel cough, although it will not entirely prevent it. The intranasal Bordetella but may have to be given twice annually.


Please contact your veterinarian if you have feel your pet may have this condition.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds and Dog Care

Publisher: Anness Publishing Limited, 1999

Website: http://www.southwaterbooks.com/

Authors: Dr. Peter Larkin, Mike Stockman

The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Dogs and Cats

Publisher: Bantam Dell Publishing, 1996

Website: http://www.randomhouse.com/bantamdell/

Authors: Matthew Hoffman, Laura Catalano, Maryanne Dell

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