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The Best Ways to Treat Kennel Cough in Dogs

By Mindy Cohan, VMD

Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is one of the most common respiratory diseases seen in dogs. The disease is highly contagious and typically affects dogs in close contact such as boarding kennels, daycare, dog parks and competitive events. The disease is caused by both bacteria and viruses. Affected dogs typically develop a harsh and dry hacking cough. Additionally, severe coughing episodes can produce phlegm.

Here are some of the most common and effective ways to treat kennel cough in dogs:

Antibiotics

Dogs which are otherwise healthy and continue to maintain a normal appetite and energy level will usually recover without the use of medications. Puppies or older dogs with health issues, however, have compromised immune systems and are more prone to developing pneumonia secondary to kennel cough. For those patients, or dogs whose symptoms are worsening after 5-7 days, dog antibiotics are usually prescribed. Antibiotics do not provide an immediate cure — because kennel cough usually has both a bacterial and viral component — but it can help to shorten the duration and severity of illness.

Cough Suppressants

Depending on the severity of coughing, your dog’s veterinarian might prescribe a cough suppressant. These medications are typically needed only for cases of severe and persistent coughing. Coughing episodes throughout the night are very disruptive to the patient’s well needed rest and prevent human family members from getting a good night’s sleep. Pet owners should never administer human medication to a dog without consulting a veterinarian.

Humidified Air

Placing a humidifier near your dog’s primary area of rest can help to moisten its irritated respiratory passages brought on by the kennel cough. Steam therapy works as well and can be accomplished by placing your dog in a small bathroom while running a hot shower to fill the air with moistened air particles. However, do not allow your dog to come into contact with the hot water.

Honey

Many people are familiar with the soothing benefits of honey for sore throats. Dogs with kennel cough experience a dry and scratchy throat not unlike what people with a cold endure. Pet owners can administer 0.5-1 tablespoons of honey either directly from a spoon or provide their dog with honey mixed with warm water in a bowl. Depending on the degree of coughing, honey can be administered one to three times per day.

General Suggestions for Recovering with Kennel Cough

The general rules of recovering from a cold apply to dogs with kennel cough. It is important to ensure that your dog is eating and drinking well. Your dog should also get plenty of rest and exercise less than usual, since both exercise and excitement often initiate coughing spells. While walking a dog with kennel cough, it is best to attach the leash to a harness rather than the collar. Any pressure exerted on the trachea (windpipe) when the collar is pulled will cause further irritation and worsen coughing. Avoiding airborne irritants such as cigarette smoke and allergen particles will also help to minimize throat irritation and coughing.

When to See a Veterinarian (and What About Vaccines)

Although most kennel cough cases are self-limiting and pose little threat except for the annoying cough, affected dogs must be monitored closely. If your dog becomes lethargic, develops a decreased appetite or has trouble breathing, seek immediate veterinary attention. Kennel cough can develop into pneumonia or be mistaken for canine influenza. Both pneumonia and influenza can be fatal and require timely treatment.

Because asymptomatic dogs can transmit kennel cough, prevention is not as simple as avoiding actively coughing dogs. Minimizing your dog’s exposure to large populations of dogs will help reduce the risk of exposure. Vaccines are available against the some of the bacterial and viral agents which cause kennel cough. Although vaccines are protective, they do not always prevent kennel cough entirely. Dog owners should discuss the benefits and risks of vaccines with their dog’s veterinarian. The decision to vaccinate is greatly dependent upon the dog’s lifestyle. Since coughing can be a symptom of a variety of illnesses, it is always best to schedule a veterinary visit to ensure your dog receives the proper diagnosis and care. 

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