Coping With Canine Kennel Cough

Thinking of travelling somewhere without your pooch this winter? If so, canine kennel cough is something you should be aware of if you are planning on sending Fido on a vacation of his own.

Canine kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, causes irritation and inflammation of the upper airway, including the trachea and bronchi. It can be passed along from dog to dog in environments where multiple dogs have contact, including boarding kennels, doggy daycares, grooming salons, training facilities, animal shelters and off-leash dog parks.


Like the common cold in people, kennel cough is most commonly caused by viruses, and in some cases bacteria such as:

  • Canine adenovirus,
  • Canine parainfluenza virus, and
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (a bacterium).


Kennel cough is most easily distinguished by the loud, hoarse and hacking cough that resembles a certain goose-like honking sound.

Although no symptoms other than the cough may be present, some dogs will also develop the following:

  • Runny nose,
  • Runny eyes,
  • Sneezing,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Fever,
  • Lethargy, and
  • Difficulty breathing.



If the cause is viral, no treatment may be needed at all and the virus will run its course in about three weeks. If the cause is bacterial, antibiotic treatment may be prescribed. Keeping your pet’s environment warm and humidified and allowing them lots of rest can also be helpful.

In some cases, animals that are immune compromised (e.g., puppies who have not fully developed their immune systems, senior dogs who have weakened immune systems and those suffering other diseases) may develop more of the symptoms of canine cough and require supportive care. In these cases, it may take up to six weeks for the cough to clear. In rare cases, canine kennel cough can lead to pneumonia.

If your pet is experiencing signs of canine kennel cough, it is a wise idea to make an appointment with your veterinary healthcare team to determine what course of treatment may be required.



Canine kennel cough is very contagious and transmitted similarly to how humans catch colds. When droplets containing the virus or bacteria responsible for kennel cough are expelled into the air by an infected dog’s cough, they are transmitted to other dogs via inhaled air. These viruses and bacteria then have an entry way into the body through the mucous membranes of the upper airway. Once inside the body the virus replicates and the dog becomes symptomatic.

If your dog has canine kennel cough it is best to keep them isolated from other dogs until their symptoms have passed to prevent further spread.


The great news is that there are vaccines to prevent the most common causes of canine kennel cough. Vaccinations may be given by injection, or as drops into the nose or by mouth. Vaccine boosters will be required to ensure your dog’s immunity remains protective. If you are planning a vacation and know that your dog will require a stay at a boarding facility, it most helpful to get these vaccines a couple of weeks prior to boarding.

Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health, she is currently the provincial manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at

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