Kennel Cough | Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis

Picture of a Bernese Mountain Dog

Kennel cough is a universal term that covers any contagious or infectious condition of dogs where one of the major clinical signs is coughing. It is also known as Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis. This last term describes the exact location of the infection, so it affects the trachea as well as the bronchial tubes. It is caused by several pathogens whether they are viruses or bacteria, and some of the best-known culprits is adenovirus type-2 (different from adenovirus type-1, which causes infectious hepatitis) and Bordetella spp. (a bacterium).

This type of infection has been called kennel cough for quite a while due to its infectious nature. Wherever dogs live together, and one of them is infected, the others will get the disease so long as they aren’t vaccinated against it, and they have a weak immune system that makes them predisposed to developing the infection. In this article, we will look at some of the clinical signs that characterize kennel cough, how it can be diagnosed, and whether there are any effective treatments and what they consist of.


Unfortunately, the clinical signs of this particular disease are somewhat generic, and that’s why pet parents could mistake them as symptoms of a cold. The infection could begin with a runny nose and sneezing, but soon enough, you’ll notice that your dog develops a strong cough that can resemble a honking sound. Loss of appetite, lethargy, and low fever are three other discernible signs.

Because of its contagious nature, dog parents have to take their pets to the vet as soon as possible after noticing the cough, especially if they know that their pet has not been vaccinated against the disease. You’ll be happy to know that this infection can be treated. However, we have to add that if it is left untreated, it can lead to major complications such as pneumonia, which, of course, can be life-threatening, especially in older dogs or those that have a debilitated immune system.


What can make a clinical diagnosis somewhat challenging is the fact that the initial symptoms of kennel cough are the same as those of distemper and canine influenza. All of the three diseases start off with signs that are nearly identical to Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis. Naturally, there are other conditions that can cause the coughing such as asthma, bronchitis, a collapsing trachea, or even heart disease.

Another aspect that can make setting a clear diagnosis quite difficult is the fact that the medical condition is not caused by a particular pathogen. Otherwise, there would have been a variety of specific tests (some of which as simple as blood tests) that the veterinarian could have performed to determine whether your companion really has been infected or not. Unfortunately, the disease can be caused by anything from canine respiratory coronavirus and pantropic canine coronavirus to canine pneumovirus or bacterial pathogens such as Mycoplasma spp., Streptococcus equi, or Bordetella bronchiseptica. Of all of these, Bordetella is considered a highly probable suspect, and that is why the vaccine against kennel cough is actually against a Bordetella infection.

Sophisticated testing is available in many places, but many times, the diagnosis is based on a history of exposure to other infected dogs or say, a recent visit to a kennel, after which the symptoms have made their appearance. All breeds are susceptible in an equal manner, so there is no prevalence in this sense.


Depending on the severity of the infection, your dog’s body could be able to handle it on its own. Needless to say, if that does occur, your dog will develop some immunity against the pathogen that has caused the disease, but that also depends on the pet’s health status. Usually, dogs that are extremely well fed and taken care of and that are young and have no history of respiratory issues can tackle the infection all on their own. That doesn’t mean that you should not take your dog to the vet, especially if you notice that honking coughing we mentioned earlier on.

In situations where the disease is caused by a virus, antibiotics might have to be administered to prevent secondary bacterial complications. Naturally, if a Bordetella infection is suspected, your dog has to receive antibiotics.

In severe cases, treatment could consist of antibiotics, inhalant medications, as well as cough suppressants, and the purpose of all of these is to help the animal to breathe better. If the disease was diagnosed while it was still in its incipient phase, the recovery could be entirely successful and your dog could become his or her healthy self thanks to the treatment in the course of just two weeks. During this time, you’ll most likely be asked to use a harness instead of a collar so as not to put pressure on the trachea and make it even more difficult for your canine friend to breathe comfortably.

Preventing the Disease

There is virtually no way of preventing this disease aside from vaccinating your dog. Nevertheless, we would like to note that even vaccination can be useless if some germ other than the Bordetella bacterium causes the medical condition. As the old saying goes, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so that’s why many pet parents decide to vaccinate their dogs against kennel cough (against a Bordetella infection, to be more precise) just because they don’t want to take any risks.

While with other diseases such as rabies or highly infectious diseases such as distemper, you have the responsibility to vaccinate your pet, that’s not the same with the kennel cough vaccine. Your vet will most likely recommend you the procedure, but it is not mandatory for every dog, so in the end, it is your choice.

If you’re having second thoughts about vaccinating your dog, we would like to note that this particular infection is highly contagious and that your pet could get it as you walk him or her through the park. After all, there’s no way of knowing whether an infected dog has been there before and has ‘leaked’ his runny nose on the same leaves that your Fido could be sniffing.

Kennel cough vaccines are available in two forms – they can be injectable or intranasal. The intranasal alternative can be a little less stressful for some pets and pet parents.

As a final note, we’d like to add that dogs that are highly susceptible and have a high risk of getting infected should always be vaccinated. From those that attend dog sporting events, compete in dog shows, or frequent kennels when you’re out of town visiting your family members, to those that have to be brought in to groomers every summer – all of our canine friends can get the disease.



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