How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?

Updated May 15, 2019
sick dog in bed

There are many factors that determine how long a case of kennel cough will last although on average most dogs have it for about seven to 14 days. While some cases resolve quickly without medication, other cases are more serious and last longer. You can help your dog recover more quickly by learning how to recognize the signs of a potential complication.

Factors Impacting Kennel Cough Duration

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis or canine cough, is the term used to describe a number of viral and bacterial infections that affect the bronchi, larynx and trachea. This contagious respiratory disease can affect a dog at any stage of his life. The main symptom of the illness is a dry, hacking cough. There are several factors that can affect the duration of kennel cough.

Viral Agents and Duration

The length of time the dog is ill has much to do with the type of viral agent that gives the dog kennel cough.

  • If your dog is affected with the parainfluenza virus, he'll most likely be sick no more than six days.
  • Another common bacteria that leads to kennel cough is bordetella bronchiseptica. Dogs infected with bordetella will usually be sick about 10 days.
  • It's not uncommon for dogs to be infected by both the parainfluenza virus and bordetella bacterium and these dogs tend to be sick about 14 to 20 days though the severity of their symptoms will vary over this time period.
  • Dogs who develop kennel cough after infection with the distemper virus, Mycoplasma canis or canine flu are at greater risk of developing pneumonia and a prolonged illness.

A Dog's Overall Health

A healthy dog has the best chance of recovering quickly. Dogs with weak immune systems or other health conditions, such as a collapsing trachea, may be susceptible to secondary infections.

Age of the Dog

A young dog may fight off the infection easier than a more mature dog. However very young puppies are ill or have a weaker immune system can have a harder time with the disease, and unvaccinated puppies are particularly at risk of developing kennel cough.

Type of Infection

A dog may recover from some viral forms of the infection quickly without medication. However, he still may have a lingering bacterial infection that requires antibiotics to resolve it over an extended period.

Secondary infections

Sometimes a secondary infection occurs, in addition to kennel cough, that results in a serious upper respiratory infection. A case of kennel cough with a secondary infection usually takes longer to resolve than one without complications.

Female veterinarian examining puppy

Reduce the Duration of Kennel Cough

One of the best ways to help your dog get over kennel cough faster is to take them to a veterinarian right away.

  • Early treatment can speed your dog's recovery and prevent a secondary infection from prolonging your pet's illness.
  • It can also prevent your dog from getting worse and developing pneumonia.
  • It's not unusual for dog owners to dismiss kennel cough as "just a cold" and not go to the vet. It's critical to take your dog in for an examination to prevent them from developing more serious conditions and to reduce the time they're sick and miserable.
  • While a dog cannot die from kennel cough, they can become very sick and suffer from more serious secondary infections without treatment.

Kennel Cough Treatment by Veterinarian

After examining your dog, your veterinarian may take different measures depending on how mild or severe the case is.

  • In mild cases, your veterinarian will usually instruct you to make modifications to the dog's environment rather than giving medications. This typically means installing a humidifier to help soothe your dog's respiratory discomfort and walk your dog on a harness to keep pressure away from their throat.
  • Mild cases of kennel cough will most often go away on its own but you still should bring your dog to the vet to make sure your dog is not at risk for catching anything more serious.
  • In stronger cases, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics and a cough suppressant in addition to advising you to keep the dog's neck clear and keeping the area humid.
  • Commonly used kennel cough antibiotics include baytril, doxycycline and clavamox, which are given orally.

Home Remedies May Be Vet Approved

Your veterinarian may also suggest some home remedies you can use in addition to medications to help make your dog feel better:

  • A half to one full teaspoon of raw honey three to four times per day given to your dog can help soothe their irritated throat. This dosage is for a 50 pound dog so you should increase or decrease based on your dog's size.
  • Some dog owners give their dogs vitamin C using a children's supplement of between 25 to 100 milligrams per day. However, certain breeds can develop urinary stones from vitamin C so discuss this with your veterinarian first if you have a Bichon Frise, Miniature Poodle, Schnauzer, Shi Tzu, Lhasa Apso, or Yorkshire Terrier.
  • Two teaspoons of coconut oil in your dog's food each day can not only help with kennel cough because of its antiviral properties but it can also stimulate a sick dog's appetite when it's mixed in their kibble.

Complications That May Prolong Kennel Cough

Once a dog is exposed to the airborne infection, the pathogens invade the body and disrupt the normal function of the respiratory system. Over a three to 10 day incubation period, the pathogens temporarily destroy the protective cilia lining of the larynx, trachea and bronchi. Without the protective lining, the pathogens may also move into the lungs and trigger a secondary infection in some dogs.

Dogs at Risk of Complications to Kennel Cough

Small breeds, puppies, dogs with weak immune systems and dogs with pre-existing health conditions such as chronic bronchitis are even more susceptible to developing a secondary infection. The most common secondary infection is pneumonia.

Signs of Kennel Cough with Secondary Infection

The typical signs of kennel cough with a secondary infection include:

Cases of kennel cough with a secondary infection can last between two weeks to nearly one month, perhaps longer without medical intervention.

Bulldog with termometer

How Is Kennel Cough Spread?

Kennel cough is transmitted through the air between dogs which is why the bordetella vaccine is required for most boarding facilities.

  • Bacteria and viral agents enter the dog's respiratory tract as the dog inhales the surrounding air.
  • It can also be spread through direct contact between dogs and contaminated areas like kennel run floors and walls, toys and bowls.
  • Other places where kennel cough can be spread are dog parks, training classes, dog shows and anywhere that many dogs congregate together.
  • A dog can appear perfectly healthy and still be contagious for kennel cough. If your dog has just had a bout of kennel cough and is 100% symptom free, he should stay away from areas where he can contaminate other dogs for at least one week.
  • The incubation period for kennel cough can be anywhere from two to 14 days.

What Does Kennel Cough Sound Like?

The most distinguishing feature of the illness is the kennel cough sound which is a dry, hacking cough that sounds painful and almost as if the dog is choking in more severe cases. It can also have a wheezing, honking noise associated with the coughing.

Speed Up Your Dog's Kennel Cough Recovery

While kennel cough usually isn't serious, it can develop into more concerning conditions if your dog picks up secondary infections. It's also very uncomfortable for your dog so it's always best to get in to your veterinarian right away to make sure your dog isn't at risk for other medical issues and to get some medication for relief for their symptoms.

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How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?