Kennel cough (or canine infectious tracheobronchities) is a term loosely used to describe upper respiratory infections in dogs. It is often characterized by a “honking” or “goose-like” cough. The cause can be viral or bacterial, or a combination of the two. It is called “kennel cough” because the infection can spread quickly among dogs in close quarters such as at groomers, animal shelters, “doggie day-cares” and boarding kennels.


The virus or bacteria cause inflammation of the trachea (“wind pipe”) and bronchioles resulting in illness. The incubation period is 5–7 days (with a range of 3–10). Symptoms vary based on severity and can include:

  • Harsh, dry, hacking cough
  • “Goose-like honking” cough
  • Nasal discharge
  • Loss of appetite
  • Retching or vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Fever


Kennel Cough is highly contagious. Both the viral and bacterial forms are spread through airborne droplets produced by sneezing and coughing. These agents also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. Symptoms begin after a several day incubation period post-exposure. The amount of time the disease is shed from the infected patient varies depending on the causative agent; it can be anywhere from 1 week up to 6 weeks.


A tentative diagnosis can be made based on patient history (have they been exposed, etc.) and clinical signs. To determine the exact cause, whether viral or bacterial, samples must be collected and sent to an outside laboratory for culture and identification of the infective agent.


Kennel cough is often an annoyance to dogs and owners.  Most cases will usually clear up on their own, just like a human cold. However, in pets with a decreased immune system (puppies, pregnant mothers, older pets, etc.), mixed or secondary infections can progress to lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Pets with underlying heart and lung disease are also at risk of complications. It is commonly treated with cough suppressants. Antibiotics may be prescribed, depending on the severity of illness, to cover for secondary infections.

Coughing can be exasperated by pets pulling on the leash and tightening their collar. A harness may be substituted to lessen this irritation.


Vaccinating for canine adenovirus, distemper, parainfluenza, and Bordetella can help. The vaccination is not a fail-safe preventive. Similar to the human influenza, even after receiving the vaccination, a dog can still contract mutated strains or less severe cases.

If a pet is suspected to have kennel cough, actions should be taken to decrease the chance of spreading the disease including:

  • Thoroughly clean bowls, toys, bedding, etc. with a 10% bleach solution or other heavy duty disinfectant.
  • Wash your hands between contact with your pet and others.
  • Decrease contact between pets that have symptoms.
  • Avoid dog parks, day cares, groomers, or other environments with large populations of dogs.
  • If boarding is necessary, notify the boarding facility that your pet has symptoms so it can be separated from healthy pets.

 If you suspect your dog may have kennel cough or another upper respiratory issue, contact your veterinarian. The friendly staff at Bemidji Veterinary Hospital is ready to answer your questions. Call us at 218-751-2753.