Kennel Cough

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Kennel Cough

Kennel cough, also known as Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC), is a common respiratory disease in dogs. It’s very contagious and easily spreads through the air. Perhaps a better name for kennel cough would be “dog cough” because your dog can become infected with the disease anywhere, not just from a boarding kennel. Your dog may encounter an infected dog at a park, on a walk, at a dog show, or through the fence of your own backyard. Because CIRDC is so contagious, most boarding and grooming facilities require dogs to be vaccinated against the disease before their stay. Continue reading to learn more about the signs, treatment, and prevention of kennel cough in dogs.

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Signs of Kennel Cough in Dogs

  • Dry, hacking cough which often sounds like something is caught in the dog’s throat. A lot of people call their vet because they’re concerned that their dog has a bone or other object stuck in their throat.
  • Gagging or coughing up phlegm - this can easily be confused with vomiting.
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Mild fever (above 102.5°F)
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased 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 organisms that may cause signs of CIRDC. These include viruses, bacteria, and mycoplasmas (organisms that are similar to bacteria).

The traditional agents involved include Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus type-2 canine parainfluenza, and canine herpesvirus. Newly identified agents include canine influenza virus, canine respiratory coronavirus, canine pneumovirus, Mycoplasma cynos, and other mycoplasmas, Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus, canine bocavirus, and canine hepacivirus.

What can you do to help your dog?


  • Talk to your vet about vaccinating your dog against kennel cough and other known CIRDC organisms.
  • Vaccination benefits your dog and helps to provide herd immunity to the population as a whole.
  • The vaccine is like the flu vaccine for humans: it doesn’t always offer complete protection because we don’t have vaccines against all potential agents involved, but it helps to minimize symptoms if your dog does contract CIRDC.
  • The vaccine protects against the most common pathogen, Bordetella bronchiseptica. It may be given by injection, as drops in the nose, or by mouth, depending on the product your veterinarian carries.
  • You can read more about vaccinating your dog in our related article!

Boarding kennels, grooming facilities, and dog shows

  • If your dog has never had a kennel cough vaccine before, it can take up to 3 weeks to build immunity after the vaccine is given. Be sure to plan accordingly when scheduling appointments for boarding and grooming, or making plans to attend a dog show.

Treatment for Dogs's With Kennel Cough

If your dog is diagnosed with kennel cough, supportive care is usually all that’s required.

  • Give your dog lots of TLC!
  • Make sure they have plenty of clean, fresh water and a nutritious diet.
  • If your dog seems to have a hard time eating due to a sore throat, you may want to soften their dry food with a little warm water for a few days.
  • Provide a warm, dry place to rest.

Treatment of secondary infection may 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. Your vet will examine your dog to decide if they need antibiotics or cough suppressants. Please note: Never give your dog over-the-counter medications unless directed to by your veterinarian.

If your dog is coughing, keep them away from other dogs. When the dog has symptoms, they’re highly contagious, and other dogs are at risk of contracting CIRDC too. Try to either keep them restricted to your home and yard. Keep them isolated for at least 7 days after they’ve stopped coughing.

When to See Your Vet

  • If your dog appears unwell or you’re concerned about their health.
  • If their coughing continues, they lose their appetite, or have other concerning symptoms
  • Please note: Your vet may ask you to wait with your dog in the car until they call you in for your appointment to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other dogs

Read more:

Domestic Travel Guide for Dog Lovers

Dog Park Safety Tips

The Facts About Pet Health Insurance

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding kennel cough or another condition?

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Published: 10/4/2020
Last updated: 10/28/2021
Dr. Sheena Haney, Veterinarian

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