Kennel cough (Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis) is a common disease of dogs involving infection of the throat, trachea (windpipe) and occasionally the lungs.
Dogs with kennel cough have a harsh, dry hacking cough. Sometimes they will cough to the point where they vomit or gag. The cough is often described as sounding as though there is something stuck in the throat. Clinical signs usually occur 3–10 days after exposure to the virus or bacteria and come on suddenly. Dogs are usually well in other respects and do not have difficulty breathing.
Kennel cough in dogs is similar to the common cold in people – we don't always know where it was caught, and different dogs are affected to different degrees. We vaccinate against the most common bacterium and the most common virus that are involved, but we cannot vaccinate against every possible pathogen! This means that vaccination reduces the duration and severity of kennel cough, but cannot prevent it altogether. Kennel cough is very contagious and can be transmitted directly or by aerosol. It is more common in dogs that have been kennelled, but can occur in any dog. If you think your dog may have kennel cough, you should keep him or her in the car until the vet is ready to see you so that your dog does not spread disease in the clinic. You should also keep your dog away from other dogs for 2 weeks after the cough resolves to be sure your dog is not spreading disease.
Most kennel cough infections are viral, which means that antibiotics won't help. In mild cases, often the best treatment is rest and monitoring. Having your dog in the bathroom with you while you have a shower with the fan off will help. The steam breaks up respiratory secretions. Cold air and exercise can exacerbate the cough. In more severe cases, we may prescribe antibiotics to treat or prevent secondary bacterial infections. If the cough is bad enough to be bothering you or your dog significantly, we may prescribe a cough suppressant – but this is symptomatic treatment only and won't speed up recovery.
In vaccinated dogs, kennel cough is rarely a serious condition. The vast majority of dogs will start to improve within 3–5 days of beginning treatment, though some dogs get worse before they get better. If your dog gets significantly worse, or if the cough has not improved after a week, you should let us know so that we can check that there is no evidence of pneumonia.
Here you can find information and advice about common problems and diseases. Please remember, though, that this information can't replace a visit to the vet!