Here at Native Pet, we've written a lot about kennel cough (aka canine infectious tracheobronchitis or canine infectious respiratory disease) because it's one of the most common ailments that affects our dogs. It's so common, in fact, that some dog owners may already recognize kennel cough symptoms and be eager to jump into action with a kennel cough treatment plan.
If you've noticed common symptoms of kennel cough in your dog — from a hacking cough to sneezing and a runny nose — then there are two paths you can take to help your pet. You can treat your pet at home or contact your vet.
We'll show you when to contact your vet, what to expect, and what you can do to ease your dog's symptoms at home. Here are the best kennel cough treatment options available to your furry friend.
Kennel Cough Treatment Options
Whenever you're in doubt about your dog's health, a vet visit is usually your safest bet. But, kennel cough is a little different. While that honking or retching sound can be worrisome, most cases of kennel cough are mild cases, and a generally healthy dog can recover at home. Plus, this illness is highly contagious. Your vet may prefer your dog stay home rather than risk infecting other pets.
But, if you have a young puppy, an older dog, or a dog with pre-existing conditions, your vet may want to see your pet in the office. If you have a generally healthy dog, your vet may still be able to offer guidance from a distance. Here's what to expect from your vet and from at-home treatment.
Option 1: Call Your Vet
If you notice your dog having trouble breathing, go to your vet's office or an emergency vet immediately. In rare cases, kennel cough can lead to pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. But, don't rush to the vet's office if you've only noticed your dog coughing and they appear to be breathing normally. Instead, call your vet.
Talk to the front desk staff, explain your dog's symptoms, and have them ask your DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine) to give you a call back. If you take your dog to the same vet regularly, they'll already be familiar with your pet's pre-existing conditions. But, it still helps to mention them during your conversation because they may not have your dog's file in front of them.
Ask your vet if you should come in for a visit or if it's better for your dog to recover at home. In most cases, veterinarians will prefer that a dog with kennel cough recovers at home to avoid spreading the illness further.
But, if you have a young puppy, an older dog, or a dog with a weakened immune system, your vet may ask you to come into the office. And, if your dog has had frequent respiratory infections, they may want to see your pet to rule out a more serious underlying condition.
If your vet asks you to come into the office, they may want to:
- Take X-rays: To rule out a more serious respiratory tract issue, your vet may want to x-ray your dog's chest and trachea.
- Treat any underlying conditions: If your vet finds a more serious issue behind your dog's kennel cough, they may prescribe medication, keep your dog for overnight observation, or recommend a different course of treatment.
Whether your vet asks you to come into the office or not, they may still be able to help your pet with prescription medications. You can ask your vet over the phone whether your dog would benefit from medicine.
For kennel cough, your vet might prescribe:
- Anti-inflammatories: Kennel cough is caused by inflammation in your dog's respiratory tract, so anti-inflammatory medication can help relieve some of the discomfort associated with the condition.
- Cough suppressants: A prescription antitussive medication can help suppress your dog's cough, which may help reduce inflammation and speed healing.
You should never give your pet human anti-inflammatory or cough medicine because they can be toxic to dogs. Even when the active ingredient in human medications is safe for dogs, the dosing is often very different because dogs metabolize medication differently from humans.
Never give your pet medication without talking to your vet first. Because most medications come with side effects, it will be up to you and your vet to weigh the pros and cons before giving your dog prescription medicine.
Option 2: Recover at Home
If your dog has a typical case of kennel cough, you can help them convalesce at home. You should expect 2-3 days of more serious bronchitis symptoms, and an additional 2-3 weeks before your dog's cough clears up. (Much like with human colds, that cough can hang on for a while after your dog feels better.)
Even after your dog's symptoms are completely gone, they can still be contagious for up to two weeks. So, keep your best friend away from other dogs until two weeks after their last cough.
Help your pet heal faster by avoiding things that might irritate their trachea, including:
- Cigarette smoke: This irritant can upset your dog's esophagus and lungs, causing them to cough more.
- Strong perfumes and cleaning fluids: Much like cigarette smoke, synthetic perfumes and strong-smelling chemicals can be a respiratory irritant.
- Walks with a collar: Your dog will likely still need walks during their illness, especially since they won't be able to return to the dog park right away after they've started feeling better. But attaching a leash to their collar can lead to pulling and putting pressure on your pup's windpipe. Try walking your dog with a harness until they recover.
In addition to avoiding things that will make your dog cough more, you can also help ease your dog's cough with some simple, at-home remedies. Try:
- Rest: Plenty of rest will help your pet recover faster. Try limiting your pet to short bathroom breaks instead of long walks or runs, especially when they’re first recovering.
- Warmth: Cold weather can make your dog's cough worse. Keep them in a comfortable, warm environment while they heal.
- A humidifier: Steam can help clear your pet's lungs and ease coughing. If you don't have a humidifier, try bringing your dog into the bathroom when you run a hot shower.
- Natural anti-inflammatories: Several common ingredients have anti-inflammatory benefits and can help provide natural pain relief for your pet. Try giving your dog turmeric or fish oil to ease inflammation.
These remedies, along with rest and time, will help most dogs recover from kennel cough. If after 3-4 days, your dog's symptoms seem to be getting worse, call your vet again to make an appointment.
Kennel Cough Prevention
As the old adage goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment. While kennel cough isn't always preventable, there are steps you can take to decrease the chances of your dog getting it and spreading it to other dogs.
Stay Up-to-Date on Vaccines
While there is no kennel cough vaccine, there are vaccines for many of the common causes of kennel cough, including:
- Canine distemper
- Canine influenza
- Canine parainfluenza virus
- Canine adenovirus type 2
- Bordetella bronchiseptica
The first four vaccines are typically part of your dog's annual vaccinations, so as long as you're up-to-date on your pup's annual appointments, they should be protected.
Because the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common cause of kennel cough in dogs, many boarding facilities and doggy daycares require this vaccine before your pet can attend. It's an intranasal vaccine, so your vet will administer it by squirting it up your dog's nose.
Note: Your pet may get kennel cough even if they get a virus like canine coronavirus. Not to be confused with COVID-19, this virus is the canine equivalent of the common cold.
Stop the Spread
While it may be too late to protect your dog, once they get infected, you can still protect the larger canine community. Don't bring your sick dog anywhere that they might come into direct contact with another dog. Dog parks, doggie daycare, dog shows, and the dog groomer are all off limits until two weeks after your dog's symptoms clear up.
However, do bring your dog back to these social situations after their symptoms subside! Much like you wouldn't keep a child out of daycare because they might catch a cold, you should keep your dog away because they might contract kennel cough. The benefits of social interaction for your pet can still strongly outweigh the risks.
To keep your pet safer when you visit these places in the future, keep your dog from sharing food bowls or water bowls with dogs from outside your household — just in case an infected dog has eaten or drank out of the bowl.
Put Your Pup on the Road to Recovery
From the hacking cough to the retching noises, kennel cough sounds scary. However, treatment is often as simple as allowing your dog to rest and recover at home.
If you think your dog might have kennel cough, call your vet. But unless it’s an emergency, don't immediately rush to the office.
Because this illness is highly contagious, you'll need to keep your pet away from places with a lot of canine traffic — and in some cases, that includes the vet's office. However, if your dog is very young or old, or has a pre-existing condition, your vet may want you to come in for care. Talk to them first to figure out the next step.And if you have any other questions about your pet's health and wellness, consult the Native Pet blog.