Kennel Cough, also known as Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis, is a condition in dogs causing (as you’d expect!) chronic coughing. However, it isn’t just spread in kennels, but is a highly infectious disease that can affect any dog in almost any situation or home.

What causes it?

Kennel Cough isn’t a single disease – it can be caused by a number of different viruses and bacteria. The most commonly isolated bugs are:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica – a bacterium that is closely related to the Whooping Cough bacterium in humans (Bordetella pertussis). It is very easily spread from dog to dog by direct contact, droplets in the air, or via contaminated food bowls etc. It can also infect cats (causing Cat Flu) and may, rarely, infect humans as well.
  • Canine Parainfluenza – a highly contagious virus, usually spread as an aerosol, in droplets coughed out by infected dogs.
  • Canine Adenovirus 2 (CAV-2) – a virus that is closely related to CAV-1, the cause of Canine Infectious Hepatitis, it is usually spread either by direct contact, or via urine or faeces of infected dogs.

More rarely, certain Reoviruses, Distemper virus and Canine Herpes virus may also be involved.

What dogs are most at risk?

Any situation where multiple dogs are living in the same airspace, particularly if dogs keep coming and going, is ideal for spreading the disease organisms. Such situations include:

  • Rescue centres
  • Boarding kennels
  • Pet shops
  • Dog groomers
  • Dog shows
  • Doggy Daycare

kennel cough dogHowever, any dog is potentially at risk, as all three major organisms can survive long enough in the environment to spread between dogs on footpaths, in parks or other public space – for that matter, both rural and urban foxes are probably important in spreading disease as well.

What are the symptoms?

Typically a “honking” cough, caused by irritation and swelling of the linings of the voicebox and windpipe. Most dogs will have paroxysms where they cough and cough, followed by retching or gagging. Other than this, dogs usually appear almost normal, except perhaps for a reduced appetite, and being slightly off colour or lethargic.

Sometimes, however, the primary infection allows a secondary pneumonia to develop, with high fever, difficulty breathing, collapse and dehydration. This is potentially life threatening, and requires immediate treatment.

Can it be treated?

In many cases, the condition is self-limiting and will go away on its own. However, the cough may persist for up to three weeks, so we’ll sometimes prescribe dog-safe cough suppressants or anti-inflammatory medication to allow them (and you!) to get a good night’s sleep. Never use human cough syrups or painkillers on dogs – most are potentially dangerous or even fatal!

There are no drugs that are effective against Parainfluenza or CAV-2, but certain antibiotics (oxytetracycline, doxycycline, and probably co-amoxiclav) will suppress Bordetella infections, as well as preventing secondary infection. As a result, if the infection seems particularly severe, or the dog is old, ill or weak, we may prescribe antibiotics as well.

In advanced cases with pneumonia, antibiotics are always needed, and we may admit the dog for intensive care nursing as well.

Can it be prevented?

There are vaccines available against the three major causes:

  • The CAV-2 vaccine is a Core Vaccine that should be given to all dogs, because it also protects against Infectious Canine Hepatitis. It only needs to be given every 3 years, after the primary course and first booster.
  • The best Parainfluenza vaccine is an intra-nasal form, given up the nose. This is more effective than the injectable form, but both forms only last for one year.
  • There is a widely used Bordetella vaccine that is given up the nose (combined with Parainfluenza). It lasts a year and reduces both the risk of infection and the severity, but does not give complete protection to all dogs.


The combined intra-nasal vaccine is available at a significant discount on our Active Health Club!


If you think your dog may have kennel cough, ring us for advice.  Remember it is a highly contagious condition, but the risk of transmission is massively reduced in vaccinated dogs. Most dogs will recover on their own in time, but if they’re really struggling we can and will help!