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How Long Does Kennel Cough Last? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

How Long Does Kennel Cough Last? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

One day, your dog starts emitting a loud, hacking cough that sounds pretty serious. It starts to sound almost like a goose honk. Then, your pup starts to show other signs of illness, like sneezing and eye discharge.

What's going on with your pet? Is it something serious?

While the symptoms described above could be caused by a variety of health issues, a persistent cough is most often a sign of kennel cough, otherwise known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis or just infectious tracheobronchitis. It's a relatively common ailment for our canine friends.

Although it doesn't sound or look pleasant when your dog comes down with a case of kennel cough, you might be surprised to learn that it's not usually a serious issue. Most of the time, a case of kennel cough resolves entirely on its own. Typically, the problem is only life-threatening for older dogs, young puppies, or dogs with compromised immune systems. Think of kennel cough like a dog's version of the human cold.

So, how long does kennel cough last? How is it contracted and transmitted, and what can dog parents do about it? Read on to find out more about this illness in dogs.

Causes of Kennel Cough

There are several things that might cause kennel cough. Namely, they are infectious agents (bacteria or viruses) that a dog inhales into the windpipe and respiratory tract.

Bordetella

The Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria is the most common cause of kennel cough. In fact, kennel cough is sometimes referred to simply as "Bordetella."

It's possible for the Bordetella bacteria to be the sole cause of this illness. If this is the case, symptoms will last about 10 days or so. Most often, though, Bordetella is not the sole cause.

Viruses

In the majority of cases, a combination of the Bordetella bacteria and an infectious virus is what leads to kennel cough. Those viruses include the parainfluenza virus, canine distemper, canine adenovirus, canine herpes, and canine reovirus.

The viral agent weakens your dog's immune system, making them more susceptible to the Bordetella bacteria, and attacks cells in the respiratory system at the same time. This can weaken the mucus coating that lines your pup's respiratory tract, putting the larynx (voice box) and trachea (the windpipe) at risk for inflammation.

Aggravating Factors

Certain factors can make a dog more susceptible to catching kennel cough. These factors include:
  • Exposure to dust or smoke, like cigarette smoke
  • Stress, perhaps caused by loud noises, fighting/yelling, changes at home, etc.
  • Cold temperatures

Avoiding these factors might not always be possible, but doing your best to keep your dog away from them will make kennel cough less likely.

Transmission of Kennel Cough

A black dog and a beagle sit together

Kennel cough is transmitted between dogs in three main ways: Through the air, through contact with contaminated objects, and through direct contact with other infected dogs.

The Air

Bordetella bacteria and the viruses that often accompany it are easily spread through the air, which is why kennel cough is so contagious. When an infected dog coughs, sneezes, or barks, thousands of contaminants are spread into the air around them. Those contaminants can travel through the air and stay alive for weeks until they're ingested by another unwitting host.

Contaminated Objects

Bordetella bacteria can survive on surfaces for up to two full days, so it's easily spread between dogs via contaminated objects. An infected dog might pick up a toy, or drink from a water dish, that a healthy dog uses afterward. That healthy dog is then likely to contract the bacteria and/or virus.

Dog-to-Dog Contact

Of course, kennel cough can easily be spread among dogs in close contact with each other. In fact, that's where the illness gets its name: It's easily spread when large numbers of dogs are housed in close quarters together, like in a boarding kennel.

Kennels aren't the only places that dogs hang out, though. Vet clinics, dog parks, grooming facilities, doggy daycare, and even pet stores present an opportunity for the illness to be spread.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough

It turns out that most of the symptoms of kennel cough are similar to that of a human cold. Symptoms include:
  • A dry, hacking, or honking cough. The classic symptom is a loud, persistent cough that sometimes sounds more like honking. Some dogs continue to cough consistently, while some have coughing fits with periods of respite in between.
  • Discharge. Nasal discharge, sneezing, and runny, watery eyes often accompany kennel cough.
  • Fever. Some dogs might develop a low-grade fever, indicating that the body is fighting off an infection. Not all dogs show this symptom.
  • Lethargy. Not every dog will be weak and lethargic, and some might go about their business normally with the exception of the cough. Some, though, will have a lowered energy level and be reluctant to move around.

How to Treat Kennel Cough

Brown dog sits on floor

If your dog is exhibiting the above symptoms and you suspect he or she might have kennel cough, what do you do?

Since it's so contagious, the first step is to isolate your dog from other pets in the house. Next, call your veterinarian to find out how to proceed.

Many cases will not require treatment at all. As strange as it sounds, the usual course of action is to simply let your dog's immune system fight off the problem itself. In these cases, kennel cough will resolve on its own in about three weeks' time, although it could take longer in older dogs or dogs with compromised immune systems or other medical issues.

Medications may be given to your dog to help minimize symptoms and increase recovery times. These include antibiotics to target the Bordetella bacteria, as well as cough suppressants to help make your pooch more comfortable. Here are a few more recommendations for helping your dog to feel more comfortable while they're recovering:

  • Keep stress to a minimum. A dog that's constantly anxious will not recover from kennel cough as quickly as they would otherwise.
  • Try a humidifier. Setting up a humidifier device in the area where your dog stays can help to soothe your dog's lungs and respiratory system.
  • Avoid smoke. Keep your dog away from sources of smoke, like cigarettes or campfires, as it could trigger more coughing.
  • Use a harness instead of a leash. When walking your pup outdoors, a leash that pulls on a collar around the neck might irritate your dog's throat, leading to a coughing fit. A harness pulls on your dog's chest and body instead.

A prolonged case can lead to pneumonia or other serious health problems, so let your vet know if your dog doesn't improve within the typical window of time. Remember that the most high-risk dogs are young puppies, geriatric dogs, and those with compromised immune or respiratory systems.

Preventing Kennel Cough

It's not always possible to prevent kennel cough, but dog parents can certainly try. One of the best ways to do this is through vaccination.

There is a vaccination against kennel cough, or more specifically against the Bordetella virus. It can either be injected, administered as a nasal mist (intranasal vaccination), or given by mouth in tablet or chewable form. The vaccine is usually given once a year, but it may be given every six months for more high-risk dogs. The Bordetella vaccine isn't always 100% effective in preventing kennel cough, but it goes a long way toward keeping your dog safe.

It's recommended primarily for dogs that are at a greater risk for the illness, like those that will commonly be boarded. Of course, keeping your dog up to date on their other vaccinations, like those that protect against the distemper and canine influenza viruses that often accompany the Bordetella bacteria, is another great way to minimize the risk. Talk to your veterinarian right away if your dog needs these vaccines.

So, How Long Does Kennel Cough Last and How Can I Help My Dog?

A case of kennel cough that's caused solely by the Bordetella bacteria might last as little as 10 days. More often than not, though, the issue will last for a few weeks before resolving on its own.

Kennel cough might sound bad while your pup is suffering through it, but it's usually more uncomfortable than it is dangerous. By knowing what to look out for, minimizing risk factors as much as you can, and working closely with your vet when the sickness does come around, your dog will stand the best chance of making a speedy recovery.

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