Kennel Cough

Isolated dog

Overview

  • Kennel cough is an airway infection that causes a nasty cough in dogs. More severe cases can occasionally result in symptoms such as a high temperature or a reduced appetite.
  • Call your vet for advice if you think your dog has kennel cough. Most dogs improve on their own, but some need treatment from a vet.
  • Dogs with kennel cough should be kept away from other dogs and public spaces (while they are showing symptoms and for two to three weeks afterwards), as this is where spread is most common.
  • The best way to prevent kennel cough is to vaccinate against it, especially if your dog mixes with lots of other dogs or spends time in kennels.

Covid-19 update

At the moment your veterinary practice may not be able to offer routine procedures such as kennel cough vaccinations. Read our advice on how to keep your dog safe if they miss a vaccination during lockdown.

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is an airway infection that causes a dry hacking cough in dogs. Similar to human colds, kennel cough can be caused by a number of different germs (viruses and bacteria). It’s most common in areas where lots of different dogs gather (such as kennels, dog shows and doggy day care) and can survive in the environment for several weeks. Kennel cough spreads by direct contact between dogs, in the air and on surfaces (such as food bowls and leads). Dogs with kennel cough should be kept away from other dogs and public spaces while they are coughing, and for two to three weeks afterwards.

Coughing is the most common symptom of kennel cough, but in more severe cases, it can cause symptoms such as a high temperature or a reduced appetite.

Symptoms of kennel cough

Symptoms of kennel cough usually take 3-14 days to develop and then last for 1-3 weeks. Most dogs develop a hacking cough and stay otherwise quite well, but puppies, older dogs, and poorly dogs can develop more serious symptoms such as:

Illustration showing spread of kennel cough

Kennel cough is highly contagious and can spread in the air. Click to enlarge.

When to contact your vet

There are many different conditions that can cause coughing so it’s a good idea to have your dog checked by your vet if they have a severe cough or have been coughing for more than a few days. When visiting your vet, make them aware that your dog has been coughing and wait outside until you are called to prevent spreading kennel cough to other dogs in the waiting room.

Treating kennel cough

Most dogs with kennel cough can be treated at home without medication and recover within 1-3 weeks. However, if your dog has a severe cough or appears unwell your vet may recommend:

  • Anti-inflammatories - to reduce airway inflammation and bring down a high temperature.
  • Antibiotics - antibiotics are very rarely prescribed for kennel cough because most case are caused by viruses (which don’t respond to antibiotics), but if your dog is very young, old or otherwise unwell, your vet may prescribe them as a precaution.

Caring for a dog with kennel cough

  • Rest and TLC - exercise can make a cough much worse; keep your dog warm, comfortable and allow them to rest as much as they need.
  • A steamy room - some dogs with kennel cough can benefit from sitting in a steamy room (perhaps while you have a shower/bath). Never leave your dog alone in a steamy room or force them to stay in it if they aren’t relaxed.
  • Keep your dog away from others - remember your dog will be very contagious whilst they are poorly and can continue to spread kennel cough for 2-3 weeks after their symptoms have cleared. During this time, keep them away from other dogs and public spaces.

How to prevent kennel cough

Vaccination is the best way to prevent kennel cough, and is especially necessary if your dog spends lots of time with other dogs or goes into kennels.

  • Kennel cough vaccine lasts 12 months - so should be repeated every year.
  • Like any vaccine, the kennel cough vaccine doesn’t give 100%, guaranteed protection, however, it does significantly reduce the chance that your dog will catch kennel cough and reduces symptoms if they do catch it.
  • Most reputable kennels and doggy day care centres will request that every dog has the kennel cough vaccination two to three weeks before staying with them.
  • Speak to your vet about adding kennel cough into your dog’s vaccine schedule.

Can humans catch kennel cough?

It’s extremely rare for humans or cats to catch kennel cough. If you are concerned for yourself or someone you know, it is best to contact your doctor, or the NHS for advice.

Published: June 2020

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst