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Key takeaways

Kennel cough, or canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis (ITB), is a common upper respiratory tract infection caused by infection with several different pathogens.

  • Highly contagious, often transmitted between dogs in group settings, but exposure is not always known
  • Diagnosis is most frequently made based on history of exposure and the presence of coughing along with ruling out other potential causes
  • A dry hacking cough that is easily confused with choking is the most common symptom of kennel cough
  • Affected dogs typically have a normal to slightly decreased appetite but maintain a decent energy level between coughing episodes
  • Uncomplicated kennel cough runs its course over 7-14 days. No treatment is necessary for most cases
  • A life-threatening form of pneumonia is a rare complication
  • ITB is contagious and occurs in dogs regardless of being kenneled or vaccinated
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A closer look: Kennel Cough in Dogs

The highly contagious nature of ITB makes it one of the most prevalent infectious diseases diagnosed in dogs. The majority of cases are not severe and most dogs recover within 7-14 days without medical intervention. More severe respiratory illness and pneumonia are rare, but potentially fatal. Vaccination is helpful and recommended, but offers protection only against one of the many pathogens responsible for ITB.

Kennel cough is transmitted via aerosolized pathogens, and exposure can occur anywhere, not just in kennels or grooming facilities. Many dogs that develop symptoms of kennel cough have no known history of exposure to a coughing dog. Coughing episodes can be severe and often sound like the dog is choking. These episodes may occur during exercise but also when the dog is at rest, interrupting sleep patterns of the entire household. Between episodes of coughing dogs usually maintain moderate to normal appetite and activity levels.

Symptoms of ITB typically develop within 2-5 days of exposure, but the virus may also incubate for up to 14 days prior to producing clinical symptoms. Dogs commonly have a cough and a low grade fever (>102 F) associated with the initial stages of the infection. During this stage of infection, along with coughing, a decreased appetite and lethargy are present.

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Risk factors

ITB is commonly seen in dogs that are in close proximity to each other, and is most often contracted in areas of concentrated dog populations such as kennels, training and grooming facilities, dog shows, and shelter environments.

Due to the highly contagious nature of ITB and the fact that it spreads via aerosols, some dogs contract the condition without any known exposure to other infected dogs. Dogs that are vaccinated and avoid areas of concentrated population have reduced likelihood of contracting ITB.

Older dogs, very young puppies, brachycephalic breeds, and dogs with chronic illness are at higher risk for developing serious complications from kennel cough.

Symptoms of ITB often vary in presentation. Some dogs exhibit a cough only when active, such as running and playing. Others have coughing and sneezing when at rest or upon waking. The cough is dry and raspy, but can progress to harsh and moist in advanced stages of pneumonia that infects the lower respiratory tract and lungs.

In rare cases, ITB can progress into more severe infection and pneumonia. A dog that has no appetite and complete lack of energy requires veterinary care. **Dogs with trouble breathing, pale gums, weakness, or other serious signs along with a cough need emergency attention. **

Possible causes

ITB results from infection with a complex of respiratory pathogens, including:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Mycoplasma canis
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Adenovirus
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine influenza virus
  • Canine herpesvirus
  • Canine reovirus
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus

Clinical illness most often occurs as a result of infection with more than one organism.

ITB is spread most commonly from dog to dog by direct contact through oral and nasal secretions (sniffing and touching noses) and through airborne respiratory droplets (sneezing and coughing). The organisms of ITB also survive on and can be transmitted through inanimate objects that dogs share, such as direct contact with water bowls, cages, and toys.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis is made by veterinary examination and evaluation of clinical signs and symptoms, along with a history of recent exposure (within the past 2 weeks) to grooming, boarding, or kennel facilities. Palpation of the inflamed trachea often elicits a cough. Further testing may not be required but includes radiographs, bronchoscopy, bronchial wash, cytology, and culture of respiratory organisms to identify causative organisms.

Steps to Recovery

Kennel cough is usually a self-limiting condition that resolves on its own in 1-2 weeks. No treatment has been proven to reduce the severity or duration of symptoms in every case. Dogs are expected to return to normal activity and lifestyle upon recovery.


ITB is highly contagious between dogs. It is transmitted through direct contact or inhalation of respiratory pathogens from an infected dog.

Vaccines are available against some of the pathogens responsible for ITB, but vaccination does not provide immunity against all of the different pathogens that lead to kennel cough. Providing adequate ventilation and disinfection in facilities helps to minimize contagious spread. Walking an infected dog with a harness (instead of a collar) is preferred to minimize pressure and further irritation to the trachea. Dogs with clear symptoms should be kept isolated from other dogs to prevent further transmission.

The infectious organisms of ITB can be transmitted to humans although occurrence is rare. Proper hygiene techniques such as frequent hand washing, removing and washing contaminated clothing and pet bedding, disinfection of food and water bowls and toys reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to other household pets or people. Isolation of symptomatic pets for 14-21 days is recommended, as is avoiding sharing food and water dishes. Keeping any infected dogs away from immunocompromised people is also critical.

Is Kennel Cough in Dogs common?

Canine ITB is a very common and highly contagious condition in dogs. Since it is caused by a multitude of infectious agents, dogs may experience repeated bouts of kennel cough throughout their lives.

Typical Treatment

Kennel cough usually resolves with no treatment in 1 - 2 weeks.

If the condition progresses to more serious bronchopneumonia, then IV antibiotics, oxygen therapy, nebulizer therapy, bronchodilators and hospitalization may be necessary.


Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Richard B. Ford, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM & ACVPM (Hon) - Writing for Today's Veterinary Practice
No Author - Writing for Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
Ned F. Kuehn, , DVM, MS, DACVIM - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual

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