What You Need To Know About Kennel Cough This Winter

All dogs are at risk — especially if they go to the dog park or playgroups.

During the winter months, a hacking cough is a familiar sound — you hear it on the train, in the office, on the playground — but it’s certainly not something you want to hear from your dog at home.

If you notice that your pup has started consistently producing a honking or choking sound, it could be kennel cough. Along with the titular cough, some dogs also experience symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, lethargy or a low-grade fever, similar to the common cold — but kennel cough is something all its own.

All dogs, regardless of breed or age, are susceptible to this highly contagious respiratory disease, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, explains Dr. Cathy Meeks, a veterinarian with BluePearl Veterinary partners in Tampa, Florida. A clear indicator of kennel cough is a persistent and strong cough, which often has a goose honk-like quality.

This should not be confused with the repetitive throat-clearing sound dogs (especially small ones) make known as a “reverse sneeze,” which is more likely to indicate an irritation of their soft palate or allergies, and not a respiratory illness.

Kennel cough is easily transmitted anywhere dogs socialize en masse, such as a boarding or daycare facilities, puppy playgroups, dog parks, or dog shows, according to the AKC. The virus can easily spread through physical contact, such as when dogs touch noses, through the sharing of water and food dishes or even through the air. Cold weather and poor ventilation can aid the spread of the disease, notes to Pet MD, so be extra careful when boarding pets over the holidays.

Much like different strains of the flu, kennel cough can be caused by a number of viruses, most commonly the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium. A Bordetella vaccine can be a pet owner’s first line of defense against the ailment, Meeks notes.

“I recommend the Bordetella vaccine — it’s highly effective and worth getting. As a matter of fact, you’ll probably be required to get it if you’re planning to board your dog,” Meeks explained. “If you’re not planning to board your dog, but your dog does come into contact with others such as at the dog park, the vaccine still is a good idea.”

While the symptoms may seem dire, kennel cough is highly treatable, and in some cases, may even clear up on its own. “Kennel cough is treated with antibiotics administered by a veterinarian and it usually clears up in five to seven days,” Meeks said. “In some especially mild cases it might clear up without antibiotics, but it’s still a good idea to contact your veterinarian.”

The infection is more common in unvaccinated puppies under the age of 6 months and dogs with compromised immune systems, so be sure to check with a healthcare professional if you think your pup may have come down with this doggy bronchitis.  

If symptoms last for more than three weeks, it could be a sign of something more serious. “If the coughing continues and affects your dog’s ability to do normal activities, such as eating or sleeping, definitely contact your family veterinarian. A persistent cough should be evaluated,” Meeks added.

To make your sick pup a little more comfortable the ASPCA recommends using a humidifier at home to keep the air moist, soothing their irritated airways, and, if your dog pulls on his leash, switch to a harness that won’t press on your dog’s neck.

Most importantly, before heading into the veterinarian office, be sure to call first — you don’t want to pass the virus to any other pups.