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Kennel cough

Kennel cough is a common respiratory disease in dogs, more formally known as canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC). CIRDC is highly contagious and spreads easily through airborne/droplet infection. It should be called ‘dog cough’ as your dog can pick it up anywhere, not just in kennels, for example, the park, the dog in the garden next door, at a dog show, basically anywhere that an infectious dog has been. In places such as boarding kennels or at dog shows it can spread very quickly, which is why most kennels recommend vaccination against kennel cough before they will allow your dog to board. It can take a couple of weeks for CIRDC to incubate in your dog, so sometimes symptoms do not show until a week or two after kennelling.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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Signs of kennel cough

  • Hacking cough – it often sounds like something is caught down the dog’s throat. A lot of people make an appointment with their vet as they are concerned that their dog has a chicken bone or something else stuck in his/her throat when it is actually kennel cough
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • High temperature (above 39.2 degrees Celcius)
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite


Causes of kennel cough

Research over the past 10 years has revealed many more agents involved in CIRDC than previously thought. New diagnostic technologies have identified more than 20 different agents that may be involved in CIRDC. These include viruses, bacteria and mycoplasmas (similar to bacteria). The traditional agents involved include: Bordetella bronchiseptica; canine distemper virus; canine adenovirus type-two; canine parainfluenza; canine herpesvirus. Newly identified agents include: canine influenza virus (not presently significant in Europe); canine respiratory coronavirus; canine pneumovirus; Mycoplasma cynos and other mycoplasmas; Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus; canine bocavirus; canine hepacivirus.


What can you do to help your dog?

  • Vaccination: talk to your vet about vaccinating your dog against kennel cough. Vaccinating your dog will benefit your dog as well as provide herd immunity to the population as a whole. The vaccine is like the flu vaccine for humans: it does not offer complete protection because we do not have vaccines against all the potential agents involved, but it does help to minimise symptoms, if your dog does contract CIRDC. The vaccine is given as drops up the nose. The vaccine contains live attenuated (weakened) virus (like the flu vaccine) so your dog may have mild symptoms of coughing, sneezing or discharge from the eyes or nose for a few days following the vaccine. If this persists or you are concerned about your dog then contact your vet
  • Kennels: if your dog requires the kennel cough vaccine to go into kennels then you need to plan this in plenty of time as your kennels may have a window of time in which they have to be vaccinated. The vaccine manufacturers recommend that if the dog has not had kennel cough vaccine previously, that they have their vaccine at least 3 weeks prior to going into kennels or to a dog show as it can take 3 weeks for immunity to start for the canine parainfluenza virus part of the vaccine
  • Supportive care: if your dog gets CIRDC then you will need to give them lots of TLC. Make sure that they have plenty of clean, fresh water, and a good quality, nutritious diet. They might require their dry food to be softened with warm water if their throat is sore or offer bland food to tempt them to eat if they have a reduced appetite. Provide a warm, dry place to sleep, away from drafts
  • Isolation: if your dog is coughing keep them away from other dogs. While they have signs they are highly contagious and other dogs are at high risk of contracting CIRDC too. Try to either keep them restricted to your garden or walk them in areas where other dogs do not visit frequently to avoid spreading the disease. Keep them isolated until 7 days after they last showed symptoms
  • Read more about vaccinating your dog in our article


Treatment of kennel cough

Despite enhanced insight into the complexities of CIRDC, the advice and recommendations for treatment remain the same. Often supportive treatment is all that is required. Treatment of a secondary infection may also be needed in persistent cases, or for those patients that have underlying medical issues. In some dogs the cough can be hard to get rid of and, similar to a human cold, it often doesn’t respond to antibiotics because it is caused by a virus. Your vet will exam your dog to decide if they need symptomatic treatment.


When to see your physical vet

  • If your dog appears unwell or you are concerned about them then we recommend that you contact your vet
  • If their coughing continues, they lose their appetite, or have other symptoms then we recommend that you make an appointment with your vet
  • Your vet may ask you to wait with your dog in the car until they call you in for your appointment, to try and reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other dogs


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