Does my Dog have Kennel Cough? How to Help Him

Hearing the loud, percussive cough of a dog can make his owner quite anxious. We’ve all heard the phrase “kennel cough,” but, candidly, I did not fully understand what that meant. I would wonder…

“Does my dog have kennel cough?”  Dogs cough for many reasons, most benign; but if your dog has a dry hack followed by dry-heaving, he may have the syndrome known as “kennel cough.”  It is a popular misconception that Kennel Cough is one particular illness; when, in actuality, it is a set of symptoms, which are typically brought on by a combination of maladies.

If your dog’s cough is worrying you, this article will provide you with a good overview of what is, essentially, the doggie version of the Common Cold….but don’t wait to see if it gets worse!

How do I Know my Dog has Kennel Cough?

The veterinary journal, DVM 360, describes Kennel Cough very well:

“Some people describe it as sounding like a cat hacking up a hairball.”

DVM 360

The comparison chart below shows you how Kennel Cough symptoms align with common canine cold-type illnesses, such as the flu.

How did my Dog get Kennel Cough?

When a dog coughs, he is blasting germs from his infected airway into the room.  That’s what makes Kennel Cough so infectious.  Dogs tend to catch it from other dogs; so they usually get it from repeated contact with multiple dogs at kennels and dog shows.  Once you hear the cough, please do not expose your pup to other dogs, until your veterinarian says he is no longer contagious.

Is Kennel Cough Deadly?

Don’t worry, but do take action today.  

Like the Common Cold, Kennel Cough is usually mild and resolves itself, with proper home care, in a couple of weeks.  It is also similar in its ability to lead to a second, more severe, illness.   We treat our own colds at home, as long as they progress normally.  This is, however, where dogs differ – That cough may be the only early symptom of a potentially more serious condition; so always set up an appointment with your veterinarian, any time your dog has a persistant cough. 

As I mentioned earlier, Kennel Cough is not the name of a sickness, but of a set of symptoms, which are letting you know that your dog is sick.  Beyond that, your dog may have more than one illness causing his cough, so it’s best to have a doctor sort all that out.  Wendy Brooks, DVM says it best:

 “Numerous organisms may be involved in a case of kennel cough; it would be unusual for only one agent to be involved.”

You will find that a veterinary visit for Kennel Cough is well worth the money, time, and effort.  The doctor can pinpoint the disease which is causing the cough, and get you on-track with the most appropriate treatment.  This is a huge consideration – After all, you don’t want your pet’s cough to progress to pneumonia; nor do you want him to stay ill so long, that his immune system is compromised, causing him to pick up another, more dangerous illness.  

Here are some questions, which will help you and your best friend get the most out of your visit to the doctor:

  • What is causing my dog’s cough?
  • Do you recommend a cough suppressant?
  • What should the timeline of his recovery look like?
  • What else can I do to help him recover?
  • Is he contagious (to other dogs?  To people?)
  • How long should I keep him away from other dogs?

Should my Dog get Antibiotics for Kennel Cough?

Not neccessarily.  In fact, if your veterinarian prescribes antibiotics, don’t be afraid to ask questions about it.  Overuse of antibiotics is leading to new illnesses, on which antibiotics do not work.  

If the doctor confirms that the antibiotics are the best course, be sure to follow the prescription exactly.  Once your pup starts on them, it is important to finish them, even if he seems better before they are all gone.  If he misses a dose, or even a day, simply pick up where you left off, continuing until all of the prescribed pills are gone.

How Can I Treat my Dog’s Kennel Cough at Home?

Since Kennel Cough is caused by a variety of diseases, often in combination, ask the veterinarian what you can do to assist your hound’s recovery.  

That, perhaps, may not be the answer you wanted to hear!  If you’ve read my other articles here, you know I am all for home treatment – It’s proactive, saves time, saves money, and often saves my dog from getting sicker, by nipping problems in the bud.  Kennel Cough is different, however; because it can be caused by a bacteria or a virus.  Those two things require different treatments, and the doctor is better at telling the difference.  Besides, it could also be caused by something else entirely.

Once your veterinarian is through with him, you will take on the responsibility of making your dog better at home.  Treatment will likely include keeping him warm and out of drafty areas, and making sure he’s getting plenty of fluids and good nutrition.

You will find a humidifier to be a great help in quieting your dog’s cough.  I use this small, inexpensive one, because it’s easy to move without a lot of mess.

Do not give your dog “people” Pedialyte.  Instead, make this canine-friendly version, which is better balanced for dogs’ needs:

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

You can freeze some of it into ice cubes.  Sometimes, a dog who won’t drink will enjoy licking an ice cube.

Can I Catch Kennel Cough from my Dog?

Not usually, but it does depend on which illness has infected your dog.  The good news is that it is rare for a disease to cross species.  Take reasonable precautions, and you are very unlikely to have a problem.  The infographic below gives you common-sense ideas for staying healthy, while you play the role of doggie nurse.

Is There a Vaccine for Kennel Cough?

The “Kennel Cough Vaccine” is designed to prevent Bortadella, one of the most common germs to cause the cough.  It’s not guaranteed, though.  If your dog is very young, very old, or is in ill health, it’s better to not have him in large group settings on a frequent basis.

Promising new treatments are on the horizon, though!  The Morris Animal Foundation recently gave a large grant to the Michigan State University to help develop an interferon treatment for Kennel Cough, which will help enhance the dog’s ability to fight off many of its causes:

“Interferons are naturally found in the body and are important in fighting infectious diseases. The team hopes this product will show promise as an emergency-use therapeutic or as an adjunct therapy alongside vaccination that can effectively reduce or control CIRD [Kennel Cough] infections.”

Gisela Soboll Hussey, DVM, PhD, michigan state university

Resources for Further Exploration

Luckily, my dog does NOT have Kennel Cough – I’ll have to provide you with somebody else’s video,  so you can see it in action.

DVM 360 has the most user-friendly list of symptoms.

The Veterinary Information Network gives you the vet’s view of Kennel Cough causes.

Learn more about the new, promising treatment being developed with the Morris Animal Foundation grant.

Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too!

Recent Posts