Kennel cough is the common name for a highly contagious upper respiratory disease of dogs; it is commonly seen in dogs that are exposed to many other dogs in places such as dog shows and boarding kennels. Kennel cough is “species specific”; meaning it only infects dogs and puppies, not cats or humans.
Kennel cough is transferred between dogs by fluid discharged from the mouth or nose of an infected dog. Dogs can spread the virus through the air by sneezing and coughing, or through physical contact with toys, food bowls and the hands and clothes of the owner. Some dogs may carry and spread the virus without showing symptoms of the disease themselves.
The most common symptom of kennel cough is a dry cough, sometimes described as “honking”, and in some cases gagging after the cough. The cough is often brought on by excitement and/or exercise. Some dogs will have a runny nose. Affected dogs can appear quite healthy apart from the cough, others may progress to pneumonia.
Any dog that is stressed is susceptible to kennel cough. Dogs who are especially at risk for infection include unvaccinated dogs, puppies (because they have immature immune systems), and dogs whose immune systems are compromised by another disease, parasites, or underfeeding.
Vaccinated dogs may still be susceptible to the disease, but symptoms are very mild and short-term.
Kennel cough is a “self-limiting” disease, meaning that in most dogs it will go away in 5 to 10 days without treatment. In dogs under stress and in puppies, antibiotics are often prescribed by the vet to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections.