How to Treat Kennel Cough In Dogs

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How to Treat Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a colloquial term referring to an infection that dogs kept in a boarding kennel may pick up from other coughing dogs sharing the same air space. More accurately, kennel cough, or infectious tracheobronchitis, is an umbrella term for a variety of highly contagious upper respiratory problems in dogs. The most common types of agents that cause kennel cough are Parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma, Canine adenovirus (types 1 and 2), Canine Reovirus (types 1,2, and 3) and Canine herpes virus.

Recognizing Kennel Cough

How to Treat Kennel Cough In Dogs

1. Understand the risk factors.

Kennel cough is extremely contagious. If your dog has been playing with other dogs in a park or has been staying in a kennel, there is a possibility it has been exposed.

2. Listen for coughing.

A dog infected with kennel cough may suddenly develop a cough, which can vary in severity from a quiet, persistent "huff" to a harsh hacking, choking cough.

  • The latter is commonly mistaken for the dog having something stuck in his throat. If possible, open his mouth to check for a stick or bone that is stuck.
  • An alternative means of determining if a dog has something stuck in its throat is to offer the dog a treat to eat. A dog with something stuck in his throat will not be able to eat the treat, so if he eats and swallows it without difficulty, it is unlikely it has a foreign object in its throat.

3. Watch for gagging.

Just as humans get a sore throat with flu, so do dogs with kennel cough. This can lead to throat clearing, or gagging and retching episodes.

  • For some dogs, this is so severe that they retch up saliva or froth.
  • A dog that is vomiting because of nausea (rather than due to excessive coughing) will bring up yellow bile or food from the stomach. This is a likely a sign of some other problem.

4. Monitor your dog's energy.

Some dogs with kennel cough show no signs of being ill, apart from an unpleasant cough. Others can be sluggish, lacking in energy and losing their appetites.

  • It is always a good idea to get a dog that is coughing seen by your vet, but it is essential if the dog suddenly lacks energy or doesn't eat for 24 hours.

Treating Kennel Cough

How to Treat Kennel Cough In Dogs

1. Isolate the dog.

Kennel cough is highly infectious, because each time your dog coughs, it releases aerosol particles that can spread the illness. If you believe your dog has kennel cough, it is important to isolate it from other dogs immediately.

  • A dog with kennel cough should not be taken on walks.
  • Other dogs in the same household are potentially at risk. However, by the time the symptoms develop they have already been exposed, so keeping them separated from the sick dog at this stage provides no benefit.

2. Take your dog to the veterinarian.

It is best to get any dog with a cough checked out by a veterinarian as soon as possible. The vet will be able to verify that the cough is because of infection, rather than another cause such as heart disease. He or she will also be able to tell you if the dog needs treatment or not.

  • The vet will perform a thorough physical examination, including taking the dog's temperature, feeling the size of the lymph nodes in its throat, checking its mouth for a foreign object, and listening to its heart and lungs with a stethoscope.
  • In the absence of a heart murmur, and if the veterinarian has a strong suspicion of kennel cough, he or she may suggest "diagnosis by treatment" rather than blood work and other expensive tests. If the dog then fails to respond to treatment as expected, further investigation may be needed.
  • When you phone to make the appointment, tell the receptionist you suspect your dog has kennel cough. He or she may ask you to wait outside until the vet calls you in. This is to reduce the risk to other canine patients in the waiting room who might be exposed to infection.

3. Obtain antibiotics, if appropriate.

Your veterinarian may or may not prescribe antibiotics for your dog. If they are prescribed, administer as directed.

  • Antibiotics are not appropriate in every case. This is because the infection may be viral, in which case antibiotics will not help, because it is the dog's immune system that needs to fight and kill the infection. There is no way of differentiating bacterial from viral infections on the basis of a physical exam alone.
  • On the other hand, if your dog is not able to fight off the infection on its own, or if veterinarian finds the dog has a fever or hears signs of congestion in the dog's chest, these can suggest the dog has a secondary bacterial infection as a result of the primary infection (which may be viral or bacterial). Under such conditions, an antibiotic may be prescribed.

4. Give your dog some steam.

Run the shower on hot for a few minutes with the window and door closed. Sit with the dog in the steamy atmosphere for five to ten minutes, taking care to keep the dog away from the hot water.

  • This helps to loosen any mucus in the dog's chest, which can ease the cough. The process can be repeated as often as necessary throughout the day.
  • Never leave your dog unattended in the bathroom with hot water running, as it may scald itself.

5. Make the dog rest.

As much as possible, prevent the dog from engaging in any strenuous activity.

  • Do not take the dog for walks. Not only is it an infection risk for other dogs, but the exertion (especially breathing in cold air) is likely to irritate your dog's airways and make the cough worse.

6. Administer cough medicine.

Coughing does the important job of moving phlegm out of the dog's chest and keeping the lungs clear. Stopping the cough completely is unwise, because this means the mucus just sits in the lungs and make it harder for the dog to breath. However, if the dog coughs so much it can't sleep at night, it is acceptable to give some cough relief.

  • A suitable cough medicine is a spoonful of children's Robitussin DM. Give the dog about one teaspoon for every 20 pounds of weight.
  • Never give other human cough and cold remedies to a dog without consulting your veterinarian first. Administering the wrong dosage or ingesting certain active ingredients in drugs may cause serious health problems.
  • Ideally, give cough medicine just once in each 24 hour period.

7. Soothe the tickle.

If your dog's throat is irritated, you can also give it a simple home remedy that will help soothe the tickle. Give the dog one tablespoon of honey and one teaspoon of lemon juice, mixed together in warm water.

  • This concoction can be given hourly, if necessary.
  • Never give this to a dog with diabetes, as the honey will be harmful.

8. Boost the dog's immune system.

To help your dog fight the infection, ask your veterinarian about giving it vitamin C pills crushed in water, wild berry bark, peppermint, raw honey, or yerba santa.

  • These treatments are not scientifically proven, but anecdotal evidence suggests they may be of some benefit.

9. Prevent future infections with a vaccine.

If your dog is in a high risk group (e.g. it spends time in kennels, attends dog shows, or mixes with lots of dogs in the park), consider a kennel cough vaccination to prevent future infection.

  • This vaccine is effective against the major causes of kennel cough and gives 12 months of protection.
  • Kennel cough is not typically a fatal condition, but it is a deeply unpleasant one. It is worth considering vaccination, especially if your dog is elderly or has other health problems.


  • Kennel cough will occur within 2-10 days after exposure, and normally lasts for about 10 days if uncomplicated, or 14-20 days if multiple agents are present.
  • Add honey and lemon into their natural foods, It can also help.


  • Dogs that have been rescued from a pound or shelter have a high chance of developing kennel cough after being adopted.
  • Human medications can have severe or even lethal side effects in pets. Before using any medication meant for humans, consult your veterinarian first.
  • Once a sick dog has recovered from kennel cough it is unlikely to become ill with that infectious agent again. Exposure and recovery is the principle on which vaccination works, so your dog is basically vaccinated against that particular illness. However, because there are many different infectious agents that cause kennel cough, there is nothing to prevent that dog developing similar symptoms because of infection with a different bug that causes the same problems.
  • If you have multiple dogs, chances are that if one of your dogs has kennel cough, so do your others. Be on the lookout for the symptoms described above.