Kennel cough is a condition that causes a nasty cough in dogs. It’s very contagious, but isn’t often serious. Kennel cough often clears up on its own and on occasion, needs treatment from a vet. Dogs can spread kennel cough for 2-3 weeks after symptoms have cleared.
Help protect your dog from kennel cough by vaccinating them. This is especially important if they mix with lots of other dogs or spend time in kennels.
Call your vet for advice if you suspect your dog has kennel cough and be sure to keep them away from other dogs and public spaces.
What is kennel cough?
Kennel cough can be caused by a few different germs which irritate the windpipe and cause a nasty cough. Occasionally, dogs with kennel cough develop more serious symptoms (which are listed below).
Kennel cough is very contagious; it spreads in the air, by contact with infected dogs and in the environment. Kennel cough germs can survive in the environment for several weeks. Spread is especially likely when multiple dogs gather in the same air space (i.e. kennels, shows or training classes).
Symptoms can take 3-14 days to develop and include:
- A dry cough that starts suddenly and is often made worse by exercise or excitement
- Weepy eyes
- Runny nose
- Eating less or nothing at all
- A high temperature (fever)
- Low energy (lethargy).
Most dogs will develop a cough but be otherwise quite well.
When to contact your vet
There are many different causes of coughing in dogs so if your dog has been unwell for more than a few days it’s always a good idea to have them checked. Wait outside at the vets to protect other dogs in the waiting room from anything infectious.
You know your dog, if they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned it’s always best to contact your vet.
Similar to people, coughing dogs often get better by themselves and most dogs with kennel cough don’t need any treatment. If your dog is very old, young or unwell your vet may prescribe:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce high temperatures and settle airway inflammation.
- Antibiotics aren’t often needed. They might be prescribed if your dog is very old, young or has other health problems.
- Your vet may prescribe something to help reduce mucus in your dog’s airways.
Keep your dog warm, comfortable and away from other dogs. It’s likely your dog will be back to normal in 1-3 weeks.
Remember, your dog can spread kennel cough for 2-3 weeks after their symptoms have cleared.
Preventing kennel cough
Vaccinate against kennel cough to help prevent it, this is especially necessary if your dog regularly spends time with lots of other dogs. Ask your vet about the kennel cough vaccine – it’s not always given as part of yearly boosters. Most reputable kennels and day care centres will request every dog staying with them has the kennel cough vaccination 2-3 weeks beforehand.
No vaccine is 100%, so although a vaccinated dog is much less likely to catch kennel cough, it’s still possible. However, a vaccinated dog with kennel cough will have far fewer symptoms and a much quicker recovery time than an unvaccinated dog.
Published: October 2018
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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.
Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst