How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

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Dogs commonly acquire kennel cough in crowded situations such as boarding kennels, dog parks and animal shelters.
Dogs commonly acquire kennel cough in crowded situations such as boarding kennels, dog parks and animal shelters. (Image: Ershova Veronika/iStock/Getty Images)

If your dog begins to have a dry, hacking cough, kennel cough may be the culprit. Kennel cough is a general term for a highly contagious infection caused by a number of bacteria and viruses. Most dogs fully recover without treatment.

Causes and Transmission

Kennel cough can be caused by a number of viruses and infections. The most common cause is a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. Typically a viral infection such as canine adenovirus, canine herpes, parainfluenza, distemper or canine reovirus makes them more prone to contracting kennel cough.

Dogs contract the disease when they inhale the virus or bacteria into their respiratory tracts. Infection also can spread via contact with an infected dog or via contact with items contaminated by germs from an infected dog.

Kennel Cough Incubation Period

The incubation period for kennel cough is two to 14 days. Dogs usually show symptoms for approximately one to two weeks. However, older dogs and dogs with compromised immune systems may not recover for up to six weeks. Although the symptoms clear up, affected dogs remain contagious and shed the bordetella bacteria for two to three months following infection.

Veterinary Treatment Options

Kennel cough usually resolves itself, but consult a veterinarian if you suspect the ailment anyway. Isolate infected dogs to avoid spreading the infection to other dogs. Antibiotics that target bordetella may speed a dog's recovery time. Using cough medicines and keeping your dog in a humidified area may help reduce symptoms during his recovery.

If the dog does not recover from kennel cough, the infection may develop into pneumonia. Rapid breathing, listlessness and a loss of appetite may indicate a more serious condition.

Vaccination and Prevention

Prevention begins with having your veterinarian administer the bordetella vaccine. The vaccine is available as an injection, nasal spray or oral medication. Have your dog vaccinated every year -- or vaccinate every six months if your dog is at high risk for contracting the disease. The vaccine does not help an infected dog recover faster.

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