Infectious tracheobronchitis, commonly known as Kennel Cough or Canine Cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease that affects the upper respiratory system.  Caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus, this condition is the result of bacterial or viral infections which can be easily spread wherever dogs congregate and socialise.  Highly dog-dense areas include dog shows, boarding kennels, vet clinics, obedience classes, as well as beaches and dog parks.

How does your dog get it?

Kennel cough is VERY contagious. It is named kennel cough because it can quickly spread through a kennel and infect every dog. Kennel cough can be transmitted by aerosols released when a sick animal coughs, by direct contact with an infected animal, or by the sharing of contaminated objects. It  can  spread if a dog greets an infected dog during a walk or drinks from a contaminated water bowl at the dog park.

The pathogens attach the lining of the respiratory tract and cause inflammation of the upper airway.  This leads to irritation of the airways and a dry cough.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of Kennel Cough can be quite distressing for both dogs and owners, and include:

  • Dry hacking cough
  • Gagging or vomiting after excitement or exercise
  • Eye and nasal discharge
  • Sneezing and snorting
  • Fever and lethargy

The repetitive dry cough normally develops 3-10 days after exposure.  Untreated, the disease can last from 10-20 days, and has the potential to progress into a more serious and life-threatening infection if pneumonia and chronic bronchitis develop.  Therefore it is important to see your veterinarian as soon as symptoms appear, so that they can prescribe a course of antibiotics to clear up the infection as quickly as possible.

The disease can also flare up again if the dog is put into a stressful situation which puts stress on the immune system.


Your veterinarian will examine your dog to exclude other causes of coughing, such as heart disease, fungal and parasitic infections like heartworm disease, a collapsing trachea, and cancer. Dogs with kennel cough usually have a history of exposure, i.e. newly acquired pets from a shelter, pet store, or breeder, or pets that have recently been boarded, to a groomer, dog training classes, dog shows, or outings to the beach or dog parks. Based on the examination and history, your veterinarian will determine whether they suspect kennel cough.


Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms. In very mild cases, no medications are given since the disease is self-limiting and will run its course, much like a human cold. Humidifiers and using a harness instead of a collar (to avoid irritating the neck) can also help. More serious cases are treated with oral antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and cough suppressants. Most cases resolve within 7-14 days.

If symptoms don’t improve, pets should be re-examined and further work-up may be necessary. Kennel cough can occasionally progress to pneumonia so it is important to monitor your pet and notify your veterinarian if they aren’t improving. Puppies with an immature immune system and older dogs with a weaker immune systems are at greater risk for developing pneumonia from kennel cough. If your dog becomes listless, lethargic, stops eating, has trouble breathing, develops excessive green nasal discharge, see your veterinarian immediately. Finally, if you suspect your dog has kennel cough, isolate them from other dogs to avoid spreading it.


Kennel Cough, while not as prevalent due to annual vaccinations, is still one of the most common preventable diseases. Our relaxed outdoors Sunshine Coast lifestyle means that dogs are more commonly in situations where they are in contact with other dogs.

Vaccinating your dog for Kennel Cough is a simple and effective way of protecting them from serious and sometimes life threatening infections. A new vaccine is available for Kennel Cough which allows the veterinarian to administer the painless vaccine into a dog’s nose. Although these vaccines don’t provide 100% protection, they provide some protection against kennel cough and decrease the severity of symptoms.

Once a puppy has their initial course of three vaccines, Kennel Cough can be boosted annually by either the intranasal vaccine or an injectable dose. This is normally done at the same time as their annual check-up and vaccination.

Some dogs are more prone to Kennel Cough whilst staying at boarding kennels than others. We advise these dogs to receive a strategic booster for Kennel Cough two weeks before entering kennels.

Contact Nicklin Way Veterinary Surgery for an appointment, and ensure that your canine companion is protected from Kennel Cough.