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Kennel Cough in Dogs: What Symptoms to Look for

Kennel cough can present with a wide range of symptoms with the most common being a persistent dry and non-productive cough.

May 6, 2022 4 min read
Kennel Cough in Dogs: What Symptoms to Look for

Kennel cough, also referred to as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is one of the most prevalent infectious diseases in dogs. This highly contagious respiratory condition can be spread from dog to dog through direct contact, airborne droplets, or contaminated surfaces.

Kennel cough is commonly contracted in places where many dogs congregate, such as daycare and boarding facilities, training groups, dog parks, and dog shows. Although treatable in most dogs, immunocompromised dogs and puppies younger than six months of age may experience more severe symptoms.

Learn more about kennel cough, what causes it, and what symptoms to look for.

What Causes Kennel Cough?

Similar to how human colds can develop due to a variety of viruses, kennel cough can also have multiple causes. One of the most common causes of kennel cough is a type of bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Some viruses can make a dog more susceptible to catching kennel cough, such as canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus, canine reovirus, parainfluenza virus, and canine herpes virus.

Dogs get kennel cough by inhaling virus particles or bacteria into their respiratory tract. While the respiratory tract contains a lining of mucus that traps infectious particles, certain things can weaken this protection, increasing a dog’s odds of contracting kennel cough.

Some things that can weaken your dog’s ability to fight off an infection include:

  • Cold temperatures
  • Exposure to crowded and/or poorly ventilated conditions
  • Travel-induced stress
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke or dust

What are the Symptoms of Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough causes an infection in the upper respiratory tract, resulting in irritation and inflammation. Most dogs who contract kennel cough will ultimately show symptoms, such as the following:

1. Dry, Persistent Cough

The most common symptom of kennel cough in dogs is a dry, persistent cough that tends to linger for many weeks. However, there are other types of medical conditions that can cause dogs to cough, such as heart disease, pneumonia, heartworm disease, and canine influenza.

What makes a cough caused by kennel cough unique is that it is usually a much harsher, hacking cough. Some dogs also make a “honking” sound when they cough. While most coughs are non-productive, some dogs will cough up white, foamy phlegm, especially when pulling on a collar or after exercise.

2. Difficulty Breathing

Kennel cough is a bacterial infection that generally affects the upper parts of the respiratory tract. However, without treatment this bacterium can spread downwards into the lungs, causing a condition known as pneumonia. Pneumonia is a lung disease that can lead to swelling and the buildup of pus and fluid, making it difficult to breathe.

Pneumonia in dogs can also cause a range of other symptoms, such as shallow, short breaths, purple, gray, or blue mucus membranes, hyperventilating, and yellow, green, or bloody mucus after a cough or directly from the nose. As pneumonia can be life-threatening, it is important to seek treatment from your vet immediately.

3. Fever

Dogs with kennel cough will often develop a low-grade fever, especially when the condition causes a secondary infection or pneumonia. A normal body temperature in dogs can range from 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When a dog’s temperature rises above 103 degrees, your dog has a fever.

Fever in dogs can have a wide range of causes; however, when fever is combined with other symptoms of kennel cough, your vet can make a clearer diagnosis. In dogs with kennel cough, a low-grade fever can worsen over time and become a higher fever if the infection is not treated.

4. Reduced Energy

Another common symptom of kennel cough in dogs is reduced energy or lethargy. Similar to other diseases and infections, contracting kennel cough can trigger your pet’s defense mechanism to work harder to create disease-fighting cells. This can result in increasing levels of inflammation in the body.

Kennel cough can also cause other symptoms, such as poor appetite. When your dog is not getting enough nutrients due to a lack of appetite, it can cause your pet to feel tired and weak. You may notice that your dog doesn’t want to play as much or spends more time sleeping than usual.

5. Sneezing

The occasional bout of sneezing can be normal in dogs; however, excessive sneezing can sometimes be a cause for concern. Dogs sneeze for a variety of reasons, such as allergies, airborne irritants, and foreign bodies. Dogs may also sneeze when they are playing as a sign of happiness. Reverse sneezing can occur when dogs are excited.

Sneezing is a classic sign of kennel cough caused by irritants in the respiratory tract. Your dog may also experience other cold-like symptoms, such as eye discharge and a runny nose. If these symptoms last for more than a few days, it is important to speak with your vet about your concerns.

When Should You Visit a Vet?

The good news about kennel cough is that it is easy to prevent. The Bordetella vaccination helps keep dogs safe from kennel cough, and although the shot is not 100 percent effective, it can lessen the severity of the symptoms if your dog should contract the disease. Your dog should be vaccinated at least once a year to maintain protection.

If your dog is coughing, sneezing, lethargic, low energy, having difficulty breathing, or displaying other symptoms of kennel cough, contact your vet right away. Kennel cough can be easily treated, especially when the condition is caught early.

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