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It’s stressful for pet parents when they notice their dog is coughing excessively. One of the most common dog health questions vets and pet health forums get is “What’s causing a dog to cough?”
If a dog seems to be coughing hard, then they might have a problem known as “kennel cough.” This easily-spread cough will persist for roughly 3 to 6 weeks and can be exhausting and depleting for a dog. Fuzzy vets most commonly recommend an in-person visit at the dog's primary vet for evaluation to speed up the dog's treatment planning and recovery timeline.
Here’s what kennel cough is, what it sounds like, and how to treat it.
Kennel cough isn’t a single disease. It’s closer to the common cold in humans, where many viruses and bacteria can cause a similar group of symptoms.
The most common cause of kennel cough is a bacteria strain called Bordetella bronchiseptica. A dog is most likely to catch Bordetella when they are already fighting off another virus. All causes of kennel cough lead to inflammation in a dog’s respiratory tract and airways, which causes them to cough harshly.
Kennel cough is highly contagious and can be contracted from many places—such as social situations, groomers, dog parks, and shelters. One reason that it’s called “kennel” cough is because kennels are an easy place for viruses and bacteria to spread quickly from one dog to another.
Despite the scary symptoms, kennel cough isn’t typically a life or death problem. Here’s how to spot if a dog has kennel cough.
The most obvious symptom of kennel cough is the cough. Pet parents might be wondering, “What does kennel cough sound like?” People describe the sound of kennel cough as a dry and hacking cough—or even a “goose honk” sound. The coughing can be quite loud.
If a dog has a bad case of kennel cough, they may also retch or attempt to vomit. Just like a strong cough can sometimes trigger the gag reflex in humans, a dog may cough so hard they gag, causing the retching.
If a dog retches, they may also produce white foam. This foam is a mix of saliva and mucus that’s been kicked up by the coughing and retching. While this is unpleasant for a dog, it’s not dangerous.
Luckily for dogs, there’s a kennel cough vaccine that can help prevent Bordetella infections. If pet parents plan on leaving their dog at a kennel, then the best dog health advice available recommends that the dog get up to date with the Bordetella and other vaccines first.
Bordetella and other forms of kennel cough are usually self-limiting, which means a dog will fight it off on their own. While a dog is sick, they don’t have much of an appetite and they seem lethargic. The best dog advice is to make sure they get lots of water and rest.
Most cases of kennel cough eventually go away without major medical risk, however dogs can get quite sick and uncomfortable during the course of disease. The cough will generally persist for 3 to 6 weeks, and that it can be very exhausting or stressful for pets. If a pet parent notices a dog is coughing up more than just white foam, or if they seem to struggle to breathe, take them to a vet and ask for dog medical advice and dog care instructions right away. The cough might have become pneumonia, which is much more dangerous.
The puppy advice for kennel cough is stricter. Puppies have less strong immune systems than adults. If a puppy is coughing for more than a few hours, chat with a vet online or make an appointment for advice and treatment recommendations.