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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I've seen a couple threads about kennel cough here on the forum, and since this is officially my second rodeo with it (yay for me!), I figured I'd share my experiences with it considering how badly it freaked me out the first time. Disclaimer: I'm not a vet. Please seek medical care if in doubt!

How Do You Know It's Kennel Cough?

Kennel Cough can be caused by a whole bunch of things, from bacteria to viruses. However, the coughing is always the same. If it's Kennel Cough, it is a dry, hacking cough. It sounds exactly like a dog trying to cough up something stuck in its throat. It's also quite similar to a goose honk. Slight pressure (pulling on leash, grabbing collar, touching throat, etc.) should elicit a cough. Dogs may gag after a coughing fit and spit up white foamy stuff. Both of mine did. If you have coughing, gagging, and spitting up white foam, you have kennel cough for sure. Dogs may also have a watery runny nose or a slight fever.


It's usually self-limiting and doesn't necessarily require any special treatment. Keep an eye on them and make sure they get plenty of water and rest.

When to See a Vet

If your pup is coughing to the point of frequently (more than once or twice a day) gagging and spitting up, go to the vet. You both will be much happier. They may need an antibiotic and/or a cough suppressant. Kennel cough is a dry cough. Any wet sounding cough means it is likely progressing to a secondary infection and needs treatment. Kennel cough can progress to pneumonia, so don't wait.

Kennel Cough vs. Distemper

If you're like me and have adopted dogs with no known vaccine history, it can be scary when they develop respiratory symptoms. It could be kennel cough (mild, usually not a big deal) or it could be something far more serious like canine distemper (often fatal, frequently causes long-term neurological effects).

The Differences​

  • While kennel cough may have a runny nose, with distemper the discharge is usually very thick and discolored. It is uncommon for a dog with kennel cough to have thick, discolored nasal discharge without having secondary complications.
  • Distempter progresses from respiratory symptoms, to intestinal issues (diarrehea, vomiting), to neurological issues (seizures, lack of motor control). Kennel cough only targets the respiratory system.
  • Distemper is often associated with hyperkeratosis (which leads to overgrowing tissue on paw pads and nose) and thick, discolored eye discharge in addition to the nasal discharge. Kennel cough lacks these symptoms.
  • Dogs with kennel cough may have a mild fever. Dogs with distemper usually have a high fever
  • Dogs with distemper are usually very sick. Dogs with kennel cough frequently behave very normally.

Preventing Infection

There are vaccines for Bordatella and canine parainfluenza, two frequent causes of kennel cough. These may not prevent all cases! I learned this the hard way when Ezra got kennel cough despite the vaccination. However, according to my vet, at least the Bordatella vaccine can reduce symptom severity. Kennel cough prevention is very similar to cold/flu prevention. High concentrations of dogs (e.g. boarding, daycare, dog parks, etc.) increase likelihood of catching it. Vaccination can also prevent it (but not always). Kennel cough can also be killed with bleach as well. Disinfect shared items, stay away from large groups of dogs, and get the vaccine (especially if you will be around lots of dogs). Isolate all dogs suspected of being infected. Kennel cough has about a 3 to 10 day incubation period. If your dog has been exposed and doesn't develop symptoms within this time, you're probably fine.

My Dog Has Kennel Cough, Now What?

Keep them comfortable in a low-stress environment. Don't expose them to other dogs, especially ones not vaccinated against kennel cough causing agents. Seek vet treatment if it is indicated. Most dogs usually are right as rain in 3 weeks or less. The bacteria/virus can still be present after the coughing stops, so it is advisable to avoid contact with other dogs for 2 weeks after the coughing stops.

Prevention in Multiple Dog Houses

If you're like me and (unknowingly) added a dog with kennel cough to your existing household, I feel for you. If feasible, separate the sick dog from the rest as soon as they show symptoms. It's fairly likely your other pups have been exposed by that point, however, so keep an eye out for any symptoms. It is likely best to isolate all new dogs for roughly 2 weeks to ensure they are healthy before introduction, but not always practical. Having your dog vaccinated against kennel cough at least one week before and no more than a year before getting a new dog will give your existing pup(s) a good shot of being immune.

Important Note:

Bordatella can be transferred to people that are immunocompromised, very young or very old, or have existing respiratory disease. Care your pup like you would care for a sick human family member to avoid getting sick.
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