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What To Do For a Dog With Kennel Cough

Carol Bryant of recently reached out to me to get my veterinary perspective on her dog Dexter's diagnosis of "kennel cough" (AKA Infectious Tracheobronchitis or ITB), which may be caused by a bacteria called Bordetella bronchispetica or could have origins in other bacteria or viruses.

Check out Bryant's informative article here: What To Do For a Dog With Kennel Cough

Cough, honk, retch, repeat. These are the sounds no dog parent ever wants to hear; for if you are hearing them, your dog is likely afflicted with infective tracheobronchitis aka kennel cough. You’ve landed on this post because you either:

  1. Want to learn more about how to prevent this respiratory infection
  2. Your dog (or a dog you know) has contracted it.

I have personally dealt with it twice in the past 7 years; my dog acquired it at a dog park at the age of 2 and then most recently, kennel cough symptoms surfaced shortly before Thanksgiving. It is now some 6 weeks later and we are finally seeing the light of day…and the lack of a goose-sounding cough. This is our journey, what we’ve learned, what the experts say, and what you need to know should your dog contract kennel cough.

What to do for a dog with kennel cough

What Kennel Cough Sounds Like

Here is a typical scenario of what kennel cough sounded like in my dog, Dexter. Should your dog have a cough, never attempt to self-diagnose and always seek veterinary attention.  A cough can indicate any number of things: From allergies to a cold to a heart issue.

What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough, the common name given to infectious canine tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease among dogs, so say the folks at petMD. As the name suggests, it is typified by inflammation of the trachea and bronchi. This disease is found throughout the world and is known to infect a high percentage of dogs at least once during their lifetime. It is also sometimes referred to as bordetellosis.

Check out this diagram of a dog’s respiratory system.  When the upper airways become inflamed, kennel cough often results. Any number of microorganisms, pathogens, viruses, or irritants can cause this inflammation, so the level of protection of kennel cough vaccine is questionable. More about that later.

Kennel cough affects a dog's respiratory system

To the dog parent, the cough sounds alarming, frequent, and is sometimes off and on throughout both day and night. In our dog’s case, he was worse in the first few weeks, but the cough did linger.

The exposure to kennel cough can be likened to the chicken pox virus in people. That is, the characteristic cough emerges within a 5 to 10 days after exposure to the offending pathogen. Dogs who spent time in a kennel situation, perhaps boarding or in a shelter, are often exposed.

According to the folks at Whole Dog Journal, kennel cough is almost always more annoying to the dog and its caretaker than it is a serious event.


Kennel cough can advance to the lower respiratory tract of a dog and cause pneumonia. This, of course, caused me great concern, so in addition to visiting the vet: Four times in 4 weeks, I called upon some trusted resources in veterinary medicine.

What I learned over the last 5 weeks is that no one case of kennel cough is the same, and that each dog needs to be examined, monitored, and treated according to their specific symptoms. Sometimes medication is dispensed and often times it is not.

Waiting at vet for kennel cough visit
Waiting at vet for kennel cough visit

Diary of a Dog With Kennel Cough

11/22/15: After a fun weekend with friends out of town with my family (dog, Dexter, included), my pooch woke up with a hacking, goose-like cough, as depicted in the video above.

11/23/15: Vet visit: Backup vet on call for the week of Thanksgiving. After hearing Dexter cough, doing a routine exam, and listening to his lungs, he is diagnosed with kennel cough. Medications dispensed include:

  • Doxycycline: 2 per day for 10 days;
  • Temaril P to help suppress cough, for 4 days;

I am not thrilled about the Temaril P, as the side effects are not the most pleasant, but I deduce that 4 days is a small price to pay to help suppress a nasty cough.

Note: Antibiotics will not “cure” kennel cough; in many cases, antibiotics are not prescribed. Veterinarians may prescribe antibiotics to help facilitate a faster recovery. However, since the disease can be caused by any number of pathogens, including viral, antibiotics may not help at all.

My fear: Pneumonia.

We opted for this line of treatment.

Waiting at vet for kennel cough visit
“Again, Mama?”

12/03/15: The cough continues and I am fearing tracheal damage from the hacking, retching, gagging, and the fact that my dog sounds as if “something is caught in the back of his throat.” Our vet sees us.

We are escorted into the “cat section” of the practice because kennel cough is not contagious from dog to cat, but it is communicable from dog to dog. Dexter is not allowed to be around any dogs during his “quarantine” so even his outdoor time is limited to a small patch of grass in the yard and then back inside.

Dexter is coughing on palpation of the chest or throat, after rising, but is able to exercise and shows energy, an appetite, and an interest in treats and playing throughout the entire kennel cough ordeal. These are good signs. Some dogs do not bode so well and are listless, may run a fever, and/or lose their appetite.

Sneezing is now occurring and a clear discharge is noticed from the left nostril.

Recommendations: Chest x-ray, throat x-ray, and physical exam.

Assessment: Kennel cough continues. Lungs and throat are clear. Veterinarian prescribes:

  • Baytril for 10 days as an antibiotic;
  • Vistaril 1-2 a day: Has sedative properties to help Dexter sleep better.

12/13/15:  Dog mom instincts tell me that something just is not right. In addition to continuing kennel cough, Dexter now looks like this:

Kennel cough drooling

See the drool from his mouth and the funky looking left eyeball? Off to the vet we go.

Since my last Cocker Spaniel had a Bell’s Palsy-like attack that lasted a few weeks, I surmised this might be the case. In dogs, they call this Horner’s Syndrome.

I was wrong. Thank goodness.

The vet looked into Dexter’s ears and flushed them. Note: I am pretty obsessive about flushing Cocker ears at least weekly with a good ear flush. He saw no infection but a lot of inflammation in the left ear and prescribed:

  • Previcox, an anti-inflammatory. Dexter was diagnosed with neuralgia. Nerve inflammation. He still has kennel cough, which can last weeks to even months in some dogs.

How is it that the dogs who are so very well taken care of and who ARE vaccinated against kennel cough are the ones that seem to get affected? These thoughts run through my mind.

Fa la la la la.

Oh and Dexter is still contagious at this point.

I invest in a warm air humidifier, set it up in the bathroom, and hope the warm steam will help my little boy breathe better, as shown in the above video.

12/23/15: Vet visit #4 with a different vet because our vet is on Christmas break.

Dexter has a funky smell emanating from his left ear and his left nostril looks like this:

Crusty nose from sinus infection

Assessment: Yeast and bacterial infection of the middle ear, left; slight bacteria and yeast in right ear. Sinus infection. Kennel cough lessening.

My Personal Assessment: Frustration. When I take antibiotics, I know better: I take acidophilus, some folks may opt for yogurt to help promote the good bacteria that the antibiotics are killing.

I never gave my dog a probiotic. *bangs head on keyboard*

“Carol, could it be that your dog has a yeast infection in his ears as a side effect to antibiotics,” fellow Cocker mom and long-time rescuer, Naomi Lukaszewski shared with me.

You could have knocked me over with a pin.

Prescriptions Dispensed:

  • Surolan ear drops
  • Clavamox 22 capsules: 2 a day
  • Continue the Previcox
  • I insisted on a probiotic

Our next vet visit is in a week for a post med check and to see what’s going on ear wise. I am using Vaseline to clean out the nostril gunk very gently and with the hands of a skilled, loving dog mom.

What the Pros Say

Dr Patrick Mahaney “If there was an infectious reason (most likely bacteria) why Dexter is coughing, the cough should have significantly improved (but perhaps not yet resolved) after 5 days of Doxy and 4 days on Temaril P. Tracheal irritation or collapse could be contributing,” Dr. Patrick Mahaney advises.  “Get that recheck and x-rays soon to rule in or out any more concerning conditions. If he’s otherwise feeling well as you describe, then there’s less of a concern.”

What about the efficacy or lack thereof of the kennel cough vaccine? At present time, there are three methods of distribution for this vaccine:

  1. Intranasal: In one nostril, no needle or syringe needed;
  2. Subcutaneous: Under the skin via needle;
  3. Orally: In the mouth

Dr. Laurie Coger, author of Vaccines Explained: The Wholistic Vet’s Guide to Vaccinating Your Dogsays, “I’m a fan of frequent low level exposure. Get your dog (or kid for that matter) out and about, and exposed to a variety of germs, in small doses. That way he can build immunity without getting the disease.”

She continues, “I am not sure why you are giving the kennel cough vaccine at all, given that we know it does not prevent the disease, only lessens the severity, and that it addresses only two pathogens, when there are dozens of organisms involved. Giving the vaccine every 6 months is contrary to the vaccine label (AKA “off-label”).

Dogs vaccinated with MLV vaccines are shedding vaccine virus — so exposure to them is sort of a secondary exposure vaccination. That’s my theory of why a dog that has never had a DAP vaccine will titer as protected against distemper and parvo. The exposure to a recently vaccinated dog triggered their immune response.”

Photo courtesy Dr. Laurie Coger.

My Experience with the Kennel Cough Vaccine

I am not anti-vaccine; I am, however, anti over-vaccination. When your dog gets cancer as a side effect at the site of yearly injections, one tends to rethink the toxins and chemicals injected into the dog’s body.

That said, I do travel with my dog and he is a little social butterfly, so we opt for the every 6-month intranasal kennel cough vaccine. It takes a second or two, and poof, it’s done.

Dexter was last vaccinated in late April, 2015. He acquired kennel cough in late November, so he was technically outside the 6-month window.


Can Anyone Else Relate?

A member of the American Cocker Club and involved in the Cocker show ring for almost 20 years, dog mom Holly Lawson has dealt with kennel cough.

A litter of 5-month old puppies received the kennel cough spray along with all of their shots during a routine visit to the vet with Lawson. She took the puppies to handling class and they picked up kennel cough. Though they treated the kennel cough,  it turned into para influenza, mycoplasma and Pneumonia. To top it off, the puppies got infected tonsils, which were removed. The manufacturer of the kennel cough vaccine paid for all of Lawson’s medical bills.

For Lawson, the kennel cough vaccine IS important, though it does not cover every pathogen and bacteria “out there.”

“My dogs ate, not like they normally did, and they did play… they did run a slight fever through it all… but, they needed their tonsils out since the antibiotics didn’t get rid of the infection,” she says.

Dogs Naturally Magazine recently ran a very interesting article on the topic of kennel cough vaccines, stating there are three critical problems with them:

  • The vaccine does not work that well;
  • The vaccine is not safe;
  • Somebody did bad math because vaccinated dogs shed the disease they were vaccinated against into the environment. The writer says that dogs that are vaccinated for kennel cough shed the virus, meaning they will infect other dogs for weeks after vaccination.

Their article makes for some very interesting reading, and you can check out the Dogs Naturally magazine kennel cough vaccine article here.

Cocker Spaniel Dexter
Looking good, paws crossed the next visit is good, too!

My Dog Today

We are at the nearly 6-week mark since my dog first exhibited signs of kennel cough and he:

  • Has a slight cough now and then with the gagging sound at the end: But mostly he does not have this happen.
  • When he rolls or his throat area/chest is bumped or palpated, he coughs for a bit: This has been going on for years since his FIRST bout of kennel cough all those years ago.
  • I am flushing his ears every other day until he sees the vet for a followup appointment next week. I hope the yeast is gone. Zymox has a line of products I like and we are also a fan of MalAcetic. Always check with your vet on what cleaner/flush to use.
  • I have started my dog on Only Natural Pet Immune System Strengthener for the next 30-60 days.
  • I worry that he could relapse, that we are caught in some vicious cycle, but I tell myself that research shows it is common for the cough to linger for months sometimes.
  • I invested in a home air purifier to help all of our respiratory system over the unseasonably strange winter months of higher temps we are experiencing.

Will I Vaccinate/What Would I Do Differently?

Shy of having my dog walk around in a bubble or an invisible force field, I cannot protect him from every virus, bacteria, or cootie of the world.

I might allow him to have the intranasal vaccine in the spring. I’m thinking, thinking, thinking.

I no longer allow routine vaccines and had my dog titered for levels that show he has immunity protection in his system. Read all about dog titers here.

We are required by law to have a rabies vaccine. I am not happy about it, and I love the work that Dr. Jean Dodds is doing in this area. Read about the rabies challenge here and how you can partake.

If this ever happens again, I’d consider administering something like children’s Robitussin DM according to the vet’s dosing instructions. Note that you never want to stop a dog’s cough completely if he has kennel cough: You want the dog to cough to move the mucus that is sitting in his lungs. Never experiment with cough meds and always ask your veterinarian first. Many children’s and adult cough syrups contain deadly Xylitol.

As a final note, our dog’s veterinarian tells me he is seeing more and more cases of kennel cough in these past months. If these dogs are indeed vaccinated, there’s something to be said about vaccine efficacy, is there not?

I recommend you perform due diligence, talk to your vet, do research, don’t get a vaccine just because you are told you have to: Question things, converse with your vet, have a dialogue, and know that your dog cannot speak on his or her own behalf. You are your dog’s best friend and his voice.

QUESTION: Has your dog ever experienced kennel cough and/or what are your thoughts on the vaccine?


Thank you for reading this article.  Your constructive comments are welcome (although I may not respond).

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Copyright of this article (2016) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.

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