Treating Kennel Cough in Dogs

Because kennel cough is caused by a virus, it will need to run its course — but that doesn’t mean your dog has to be uncomfortable.

Respiratory problems might be a sign of kennel cough. By:
Respiratory problems might be a sign of kennel cough. By: sleepyneko

If your dog has kennel cough, you are likely to notice as he will constantly cough or make hacking noises.

Kennel cough is like the human cold virus because it can be caused by multiple things. One of the most common causes is the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica, and that is why some people refer to kennel cough as Bordetella.

Your veterinarian will likely ask if you want a Bordetella shot, which is generally a liquid drizzled down the nose. Dogs get this illness by inhaling virus particles or bacteria into the respiratory tract. They tend to be more likely to develop it if they are in poor condition or have been exposed to smoke or dust — but the good news is that kennel cough is treatable.

Isolation

Although this is not actually a treatment method, the first thing you should do if your dog has kennel cough is to isolate him. This is because the illness is highly contagious, and if he remains around other dogs he could easily infect them as well. Take your dog to the vet if you think he has kennel cough.

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Treating Kennel Cough

The good news about kennel cough is that many (but not all) dogs can get healthy again with minimal medical treatment. In that case, your vet may simply advise you to keep an eye on him for the next few weeks or months, and of course keep him isolated.

This means no trips to the dog park, groomer or doggy daycare. If your dog is especially old, young or just weak in general, the vet may decide that medication or additional treatment is necessary, but this will not always be the case.

Either way, the vet will probably recommend that you make some simple changes at home to speed up the healing process. If your dog doesn’t start to get better within a few weeks, you should take him back to the vet because extended kennel cough can lead to pneumonia or other problems.

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After You See the Veterinarian

Even if the vet doesn’t prescribe any treatment for your pup with kennel cough, there are some things you can do at home to speed up the healing process.

  • Make sure your dog is not exposed to fumes, such as cigarette smoke.
  • Instead, you might consider encouraging the dog to breathe in steam to help soothe the breathing passages. To do this, you could set up a humidifier or let your dog into the bathroom while you shower (but not actually in the shower with you, of course).
  • When your dog has kennel cough, keep in mind that the throat will be sensitive, so avoid pulling on his collar. Use a harness when necessary instead.

To hear what a kennel cough sounds like, watch this video showing Chloe the dog after returning from boarding for 2 days:

Medications: Cough Suppressant or Antibiotic

In some cases, your vet may prescribe medication to speed up healing, especially if the dog is weak or the symptoms have lasted longer than normal.

Some common options are cough suppressants and antibiotics. The cough suppressant will ease the symptoms while your dog’s body heals, and the antibiotics will get to the root of the problem and treat the bacteria itself. Because kennel cough is caused by a virus, it will need to run its course — but that doesn’t mean your dog has to be uncomfortable.

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Is There a Kennel Cough Vaccine?

There are several vaccines for kennel cough in dogs, but not all vets are in favor of them. This is because they work only as prevention, not treatment, and they are not 100% effective.

Kennel cough vaccines tend to vaccinate against only one virus. Despite that, they can be helpful especially if your dog comes into contact with a lot of other dogs.

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If your vet recommends giving a Bordetella vaccine, you will have 3 options: oral, nasal mist or injection. The injection is usually preferred for younger dogs and those who may bite because the oral and nasal ones require getting close to the mouth. In general the vaccine should be given once a year, but some dogs at higher risk may need it every 6 months.

Additional Resources

Jet Perreault

View posts by Jet Perreault
Jet Perreault, a professional dog groomer of 18 years, graduated from Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She has spent time on the dog show circuit, working groomer trade shows, and managing grooming salons and pet shops.

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