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Kennel cough can be a tricky one to figure out. Due to the many possible causes of kennel cough and the ways kennel cough can be contracted, it is sometimes inescapable.

As dog owners, we never wish to see our pet ill or in pain, but if they happen to rub noses with a dog with a viral or bacterial infection, it is advantageous to be educated and prepared for what may come next. 

Today we’ll dive into the top causes of kennel cough as well as the top 5 ways your dog can acquire them.

What Is Kennel Cough?

Before we jump into what causes kennel cough, let’s go over the condition itself.

Canine infectious tracheobronchitis or “kennel cough” is a contagious illness transferred quickly and hastily from one animal to another through particles in the air.

Dogs are more likely to “catch” this virus than other animals because of their social personalities and the probability of being in contact with other, potentially infected animals.

Kennel cough can last anywhere from one to three weeks in common scenarios. If it persists longer than that, there’s a strong likelihood the cough is masking a different underlying condition.

What Causes Kennel Cough?

There are several culprits when it comes to the question, what causes kennel cough? Sometimes they work alone, but these kennel cough offenders work better together, with one dulling the immune system allowing the other to hop on and cause more trouble. Symptoms of these kennel cough causing culprits are similar and include the following:

  • Persistent dry, hacking cough
  • Gagging, retching
  • Fever
  • Runny nose and eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Sore throat
  • General disinterest
  • Lethargy

The Top 5 Respiratory Causes Of Kennel Cough

  1. Bordetella bronchiseptica
  2. Canine parainfluenza
  3. Canine adenovirus
  4. Canine distemper
  5. Canine respiratory coronavirus

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

Bordetella Bronchiseptica
The Bordetella bacteria is so often associated with kennel cough that it is referred to as Bordetella.

The kennel cough vaccine offers protection from the Bordetella bacteria. 

However, the vaccine does not guarantee that your pet will not still contract some form of kennel cough or infectious tracheobronchitis. The vaccine will lessen symptoms and the recovery time of infection.

Canine Parainfluenza

Canine parainfluenza is a highly contagious respiratory virus and one of the most common causes of kennel cough or canine infectious tracheobronchitis. Symptoms are similar to those of the human cold or flu virus. 

Treatment requires supportive care and the possible medicinal intervention of antivirals, cough suppressants, and pain meds for coughing.

Canine Adenovirus II

Canine adenovirus II is another common infectious agent that causes kennel cough. Adenovirus II is a close cousin to adenovirus I, hepatitis, but Adenovirus II is a respiratory virus. Treatment includes supportive care consisting of rest, fluids, and good nutrition.

A vaccine is available, but it doesn’t eliminate all risks. It does limit the severity of symptoms and the time of recovery.

Canine Distemper

Distemper is a dangerous virus accompanied by a dry wheezing cough accompanied by a fever and yellowish discharge from the eyes and nose.

Unlike the kennel cough vaccine, which can be optional depending on the dog’s interaction with other dogs and the likelihood of boarding, the Distemper vaccine is necessary.

Distemper has an incredibly negative effect on the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. Distemper can be fatal, particularly in puppies. Be sure your dog is vaccinated for distemper and stays up to date on vaccines.

Canine Respiratory Coronavirus

Several coronaviruses affect dogs and people. Canine respiratory coronavirus is not Covid-19 or SARS. It is an entirely different coronavirus causing upper respiratory discomfort in dogs only. Canine respiratory coronavirus is a cause of kennel cough or canine infectious tracheobronchitis.

There is no vaccine currently available for canine respiratory coronavirus. Luckily it tends to clear up on its own with some tender loving care, rest, healthy nutrition, and lots of fluids.

Causes Of Kennel Cough And What They Are

Causes of Kennel Cough

The culprit causing kennel coughWhat is it?What can I do about it?
Bordetella BronchisepticaBacteria is most often associated with kennel cough. Sometimes referred to as bordetellosis in cats. That’s right – cats can get kennel cough.An optional vaccine that offers protection though it is still possible to contract kennel cough. Antibiotics can kill bacteria.
Canine ParainfluenzaHighly contagious virus and one of the most common pathogens of canine infectious tracheobronchitisAntiviral medication

Cough suppressants and painkillers for painful cough

Vaccine available

Canine Adenovirus – 2A respiratory virus causing infectious tracheobronchitis in dogs. Related to canine adenovirus-1 or canine hepatitis.Supportive care consisting of  rest, fluids, and good nutrition

A vaccine is available, but it doesn’t eliminate all risks. It does limit the severity of symptoms and the time of recovery.

Canine DistemperA serious and contagious disease-causing respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal problems in mammalsVaccinate! This is a core vaccine. You will be prompted by your veterinarian.
Canine respiratory coronavirusA coronavirus in dogs that causes upper respiratory discomfort and contributes to kennel cough or canine infectious tracheobronchitis.Treat with supportive care of fluids, good nutrition, and rest.

No vaccine available

Causes Of Kennel Cough In Dogs

Dog Cough Causes
When contemplating the causes of kennel cough, we also consider the potential ways that kennel cough can spread from dog to dog. Take a look at the top five most common ways dogs get kennel cough.

Top 5 Common Ways Dogs Get Kennel Cough

  1. Enclosed and crowded places with poor air circulation
  2. Direct contact
  3. Shared toys
  4. Cold temperatures
  5. Travel & stress

Enclosed And Crowded Places With Poor Air Circulation

Dog Shelter
The first and most common way a dog can get kennel cough is from a kennel situation. Places like this could include:

  • Shelters
  • Doggy daycares
  • Boarding facilities
  • Kennels

One reason a dog may catch kennel cough is by being in close quarters with many other dogs. Bordetella bacteria love stagnant air.

A tight space with poor air circulation and many potential hosts is the perfect environment for these contagious kennel cough culprits to wreak havoc. 

Direct Contact

Direct contact with an infected dog is a sure-fire way to contract kennel cough. Bordetella and the contagious viruses mentioned above are shared between dogs that rub their wet noses together.

The incubation period for kennel cough culprits ranges from 3-10 days for symptoms to become apparent. During this time, it may be hard to know if your dog is ill or not.

Shared Toys & Bowls

Usually, sharing is caring, but in this case, that slobbery community ball may turn out to be how your dog gets kennel cough.

Neither viruses nor Bordetella bacteria typically survive long in the environment due to sensitivity to temperature and other environmental factors. However, on hard surfaces like rubber balls and bowls, they can last anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.

Canine parainfluenza was found to stay infectious for 4-12 days on a plastic surface at 18°C – 20°C, in this study. If your dog has kennel cough, take time to sanitize everything before and after isolation.

Cold Temperatures

Though cold temperatures don’t cause a dog to contract the bordetella bacteria or a virus, exposure to cold temperatures can compromise your dog’s immune system. A compromised immune system is what the bordetella bacteria live for, waiting for any sign of vulnerability to strike.

We still have to take the dog for a walk during even the coldest months, so what else can we keep them healthy and the immune system strong?

  • Take your dog for shorter walks more often in cold temperatures.
  • Use a towel to dry between your pet’s toes after a walk in the snow or rain.
  • Get a doggy coat for your canine BFF to add a layer of warmth to their daily walk routine.

Travel and Stress

Traveling with a dog can be an incredible adventure, but it can also be stressful for them (and maybe you too).

Stress can contribute to the diminishing of the dog’s immune system and the heightened susceptibility to infection.

Of course, we want to take our animals on day trips, hikes, and all the fun places, but just notice your dog’s actions and responses when riding. Take things slowly at first.

Air travel can be stressful for humans and animals alike, with people and animals rushing by from everywhere. Indeed not an ideal place for a dog who is in any way immunocompromised, whether it be a puppy with an underdeveloped immune system or a senior dog with a deteriorating one.

Here we have compiled a table of ways and where to catch kennel cough for your convenience.

Way to catch kennel coughWhere to catch kennel cough
Confined and crowded places with poor air circulationBoarding facilities, animal shelters, doggy daycare.
Direct contactDog park, daycare, shelters, boarding facilities.
Shared contaminated toys and bowlsAnywhere sharing food and water bowls are allowed.
Cold temperaturesLeaving dogs outside or in a cold area for longer than necessary.
Travel/stressAir travel, new home, vet visits

What Causes Kennel Cough In Puppies?

What causes kennel cough in puppies
The same kennel cough culprits cause kennel cough in puppies. Bordetella bacteria or viral infection are the top offenders for kennel cough in puppies. Still, puppies have a few extra vulnerabilities due to their age, making them more susceptible to kennel cough.

  1. Puppies come from all sorts of breeding backgrounds
  2. Puppies are immunocompromised
  3. Puppies may not have all of their vaccines

Puppies Come From All Sorts Of Breeding Backgrounds

Whether you’re getting your new puppy from a shelter or a breeder, it’s most likely that a puppy was surrounded by many other dogs and puppies who may or may not have been vaccinated.

Puppies can also acquire diseases from an unhealthy mother’s milk. There are always risks when adopting a puppy because you often can’t know their past. Full vet check-ups and vaccines will put your mind at ease. We all know adorable puppies are worth the time and effort.

Puppies Are Immunocompromised

Puppies are immunocompromised only because they have not developed a fully functioning immune system. This new and fuzzy bundle of energy may seem tireless and tough, but puppies are, in fact, very susceptible to stress and more vulnerable to disease and viruses than their adult dogs.

A puppy’s little body can’t fight off infection as well as its adult counterparts. Early detection of the symptoms of kennel cough in puppies is extremely helpful for diagnosis and prognosis.

Puppies May Not Have Had All of Their Vaccines

The first rounds of core vaccines for puppies begin at about 6 to 8 weeks of age, including their vaccine for kennel cough. Your new puppy must stay away from high-risk places like shelters, kennels, boarding facilities, and doggy daycares for that time. Most of these places will not allow unvaccinated dogs anyways and if they do, run!

We must stress that it is crucial to keep your pup safe and away from other dogs until they are fully vaccinated. 

Does Kennel Cough Cause Panting?

Kennel cough causes panting
Yes, kennel cough can likely cause panting due to a sore throat and inflamed larynx. Difficulty breathing, panting, gasping, and wheezing may be apparent, particularly after exercise or exertion of going upstairs or other strenuous activity.

No pet owner wants to see their pet gasping for air. Though this may not be completely avoidable, we can use a few useful home remedies to ease the labored breathing that comes with kennel cough.

  • Lose the collar and use a harness. Pulling on a collar will only cause more damage to the windpipe, causing more difficulty breathing.
  • Offer a steam session by running the hot shower and allowing your dog to sit in the steam vapors.
  • Get a humidifier or a vaporizer to have with your dog while they are recovering from kennel cough.
  • Go light on the exercise while your dog is feeling under the weather.


There are several causes of kennel cough in dogs, and we cannot always protect our animals from every respiratory illness. Keeping up on annual exams, vaccines, and booster shots will stave off most dangerously serious diseases.

Kennel cough is a common occurrence and cannot always be avoided even with the vaccine. Staying aware and educated is the best way to keep kennel cough at bay, and you’re doing great! Until next time, stay safe and healthy.