Infectious canine tracheobronchitis (kennel cough)

Kennel cough in dogs
Published by .
Filed under Dogs, Elderly Dogs, Puppies.
Image credit: Image from

Infectious canine tracheobronchitis, commonly called kennel cough, is a common respiratory condition in dogs manifested by a degree of coughing caused by one or a combination of infectious organisms. As the name states, it is infectious in nature in that it is transmitted from one dog to the next, mainly through coughing.

The disease mainly affects the air pipe (trachea) and the upper parts of the lungs. Kennel cough can be caused by various primary and/or secondary micro-organisms. Common causes include Bordetella bronchoseptica and Canine Parainfluenza Virus. Other less likely causes includes Canine Herpes Virus, the Canine Adenoviruses, Reovirus, Pseudomonas, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella, Pasteurella, Streptococcus, Mycoplasma and some other organisms. Very often it is a combination of these pathogens that causes the disease.

The common name of ‘kennel cough’ is appropriate in that this disease has a higher incidence in areas where there are many dogs in close proximity, for example kennelling for boarding, hospital, in pet shops and charity organisations. The disease is also common in dogs that take part in endurance activities, dog shows and training classes. Dogs staying in less than ideal hygienic conditions are also at risk. Kennel cough is not contagious to people.

It is most severe in puppies about six weeks to six months old due to the lack of appropriate immunity, but dogs of any age, breed or gender can be affected. Pregnant bitches are also more prone to contracting it.

The severity of kennel cough may be nonexistent, mild, or severe with pneumonia. Some cases are self-limiting. It can spread rapidly, even from seemingly healthy dogs to others in the same environment and coughing usually begins about four days to a week after exposure to the infecting micro-organisms(s).


Apart from coughing, most dogs with kennel cough will be otherwise healthy. The coughing may be may be dry and hacking, soft and dry or moist and hacking. In some cases, the cough will be followed by gagging. In severe cases dogs might refuse to eat, have a moist productive cough, be lethargic, struggle to breathe and show exercise intolerance.

My dog is coughing; what now?

To establish the severity, instigate appropriate treatment and to minimise further spread, one should book an appointment with your family veterinarian as soon as possible. Any dog that coughs should be isolated immediately!

Diagnostic tests

The preliminary diagnosis of kennel cough is made by excluding other similar diseases that might be present. On presentation, your family veterinarian will very likely do a routine blood smear, especially if there is even a mild fever. He or she will also enquire about the vaccination history and historical whereabouts of your dog. Depending on the severity of this disease, the vet might also require a series of chest radiographs or even a bronchoalveolar lavage where a sample is taken directly from the affected areas of the lungs.

Kennel cough treatment

Upon evaluation of the severity of the disease, the pet will most likely be treated at home with an appropriate scheduled antibiotic, appropriate scheduled anti-inflammatory medication and antitussive medication to relieve coughing.

For severe cases, for example, where the lungs are affected, the attending veterinarian will recommend hospitalisation in isolation (to protect the other hospitalised animals from being affected), indicated diagnostic and monitoring tests and appropriate medication.

Management at home

On average, treatment will take two to three weeks. Although the disease can already be transmitted before any coughing is evident, it is still recommended to isolate your affected pet(s) from other dogs in the household until the coughing has ceased and the treatment has been completed. Also keep affected dogs rested for this period.

Borditella can be a very stubborn infection to get rid of. If Borditella is suspected, your family veterinarian will most likely recommend a follow-up examination two weeks after the initial treatment. We at Vet Hospital Port Shepstone will send you a reminder SMS of this. All other dogs in the household should also be monitored.

Preventing kennel cough

The best way to prevent this disease is by keeping dogs isolated and/or vaccinated. All non-vaccinated pets in your household should be vaccinated as soon as possible after the diagnosis, and although they will still be at risk of contracting the disease in the near future, they will either obtain partial immunity or, in some cases, the vaccine will protect them from future exposure.

Although not all the causative organisms can be prevented by vaccinations, the more common, severe ones can. The routine Canine Parainfluenza Virus and Canine Adenoviruses should be given to puppies and boosted regularly. These vaccines are included as part of the core or necessary vaccines. Puppies should be vaccinated at six weeks, nine weeks and then 12 weeks of age. Adult dogs should then be vaccinated once every year. Note that a puppy is not considered fully vaccinated against these diseases until two weeks after all of the booster vaccinations have been administered. At Vet Hospital Port Shepstone, all the core vaccines are given as a single injection.

Vaccinating infected dogs is not recommended as the treatment and current immune status will interfere with the vaccine’s ability to stimulate immunity. Even more so, dogs infected with kennel cough will develop natural immunity for a few months afterwards.

In order to prevent the very common, stubborn Borditella bronchoseptica bacteria, we also recommend routine vaccination against this organism. This is an extra injection and can be given with or without the annual core vaccines. This vaccine will protect a dog for about six months after the injection. We at Vet Hospital Port Shepstone strongly recommend this vaccine at the beginning of the winter months and just before the December holidays.

About the author
About the author
Renier is a qualified, experienced companion animal veterinarian whose main interests are animal health and strengthening pet-owner relationships.
View all posts by Dr Renier Delport (BVSc.)

Did you like this?

1 Star 6 readers found this helpful so far.
You have not voted yet. If you found this helpful, please vote by hitting the paws up icon.

Please save, share & comment

Your comment is important to us, but please keep them to the point, constructive and polite.

Comment via Facebook

You might also like