Recognizing and Treating Kennel Cough: A Guide for Dog Owners

Kennel cough, sometimes called Bordetella or tracheobronchitis, is an infection commonly seen in dogs that have been exposed to crowded kennels or shelters, excessive cold temperatures, travel-related stress or irritants such as cigarette smoke. These conditions make dogs more susceptible to contracting one of the many infectious agents that cause the disease. Here’s how to protect and treat your canine companion.


Bordetella bronchiseptica, mycoplasma and parainfluenza virus are just a few of the bacteria and viruses that can cause symptoms of kennel cough. Dogs with the disease develop inflammation of the larynx and trachea which can spread to other dogs via airborne particles. This is why the condition is so common in shelters and kennels; the close quarters make it easy for bacteria and viruses to travel.

Signs and Symptoms

Mild cases of kennel cough cause symptoms that include:

  • Persistent “honking” cough
  • Retching
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Eye discharge

Infected dogs generally continue to eat well and maintain their regular activity levels. However, if loss of appetite, lethargy, rapid breathing or other serious symptoms develop, dogs should be checked by a veterinarian to determine if another illness such as pneumonia is present.

Medical Treatments

A veterinarian diagnoses kennel cough by evaluating the animal’s symptoms and history of exposure. Vets may prescribe cough suppressants or bronchodilators to help dogs be more comfortable. Antibiotics don’t tend to shorten the duration of infection and so are generally not prescribed unless the case is more severe. Dogs that are likely to be exposed to kennel cough can be vaccinated against the disease.

Natural Remedies

Just as with human illnesses, there are many natural options for treating kennel cough. Humidifying the air in the area where the dog spends most of his or her time may ease symptoms. Adding essential oils such as eucalyptus to the humidifier or an oil diffuser can also be soothing.

Herbs that have been used successfully to treat kennel cough include licorice, sage, blackberry, elder blossom, thyme, fenugreek and slippery elm. Before employing any of these remedies, however, consult with a trained herbalist for instruction on combinations and dosage. Dogs will need much less of an herb than humans and proper preparation is important in order to get the most out of each remedy.

Other natural options to consider include raw honey, which is known for its disease-fighting properties; coconut oil, which contains medium-chain fatty acids that are reported to fight bacteria and viruses and vitamins C and E, both of which are important for immune health in dogs as well as humans.


Depending on the age and health of the infected dog, kennel cough can take anywhere from ten days to six weeks to clear completely. The agent causing the infection may remain in the dog’s system for as long as 14 weeks, during which time the dog is still contagious and should be kept away from other animals.