What Does Kennel Cough Sound Like?

Kennel cough is a dry, hacking, persistent cough that can sound like the dog has something stuck in its throat. This dry hack is often followed by gagging or retching that sounds like the dog is coughing up a hairball, like a cat. Some dogs have coughing fits every few minutes, while other dogs are constantly coughing throughout the day. The cough usually sets in 5 to 10 days after initial infection and can last up to 3 weeks.

Kennel cough, or Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex, is an upper respiratory infection that affects dogs of all ages. Caused by a range of different viruses and bacteria, kennel cough’s main symptom is inflammation of the dog’s upper respiratory tract, including the larynx and windpipe. This inflammation leads to the most well-known symptom: the cough.

What Are Other Signs of Kennel Cough?

Though the signature cough is the main symptom of kennel cough, there are other symptoms that can serve as warning signs of the infection, such as:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Eye discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Lowered of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Watery eyes

In some cases, usually in puppies or older dogs with compromised immune systems, kennel cough can lead to a more serious infection that manifests as pneumonia and secondary bacterial infections. Serious symptoms like the following are signs of these severe cases:

  • High fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Moist or productive cough
  • Thick yellow or white nasal discharge
  • Disinterest in normal activities 

What Causes Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is caused by a range of different viruses and bacteria that are inhaled by the dog into its respiratory tract. Sometimes the infection is a combination of both a virus and a bacterium.

The most common kennel cough bacteria strain is Bordetella bronchiseptica, and the most common kennel cough viral strains are canine adenovirus, canine distemper virus, canine herpes, parainfluenza virus, and canine reovirus. These viruses are generally seen in conjunction with a second bacterial infection, as the viral infection weakens the immune system, making it easier for the bacteria to take hold.

Kennel Cough Treatments

Kennel cough generally resolves all on its own without any treatment. Most cases clear up in 3 weeks, with dogs returning to their normal behaviors, eating habits, and personalities. However, there are a few home remedies that can ease symptoms to keep dogs more comfortable for the duration of the infection.

For example, keeping the dog in a humid environment can help soothe the dry cough and reduce the frequency of coughing fits. Try using a portable humidifier to add more moisture to the air if necessary.

If the dog exhibits serious symptoms or the infection doesn’t seem to be clearing on its own, it’s time to see the veterinarian. Be sure to call the office before coming by so the vet can prep their exam table and minimize infection exposure for other dogs and animals. Most vets prescribe antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection. They can also prescribe cough medicine to calm the cough.