Kennel Cough Symptoms

Everything you need to know about kennel cough signs in dogs. Symptoms are categorized by early, mild and severe.

    If you have a canine BFF in your life, you want to give them the happiest, healthiest life experience possible.

    Being aware, proactive, and informed of symptoms and irregular behavior in your furry friend is the first step in keeping them healthy and virile into their golden years.

    Signs of Kennel Cough in Dogs

    What is Kennel Cough?Kennel cough or Bordetella is one of the most common illnesses in dogs. Kennel cough is a highly contagious upper respiratory condition and will spread from one dog to another quickly. However, if you know the symptoms of kennel cough and what to look for, the most obvious being a nasty cough, you’ll be able to quarantine and nurse your sick pup back to health in no time.

    Signs of kennel cough comes from the Bordetella bacterium. This bacteria is airborne and is transmitted from dog to dog by way of inhalation.

    A dog will most often contract the Bordetella bacteria only after another virus has compromised its immune system. After a virus has made its place, the Bordetella bacteria are free to jump on those compromised cells and start a whole bout of trouble.

    Viruses that typically accompany Bordetella in manifesting the elusive “Kennel Cough” are Adenovirus, Parainfluenza, and Distemper. Because there are so many variables within the illness itself, one kennel cough vaccine will not cure or prevent every Kennel Cough mutation.

    Can My Dog Get Kennel Cough Symptoms Even If Vaccinated?

    The short answer is – yes.

    Many veterinarians may suggest passing on the kennel cough vaccination if it is not necessary. If your dog is not boarded or around unfamiliar dogs often, you may choose to skip the vaccine altogether. If you need the vaccine for liability reasons and boarding, ask your vet about the pros and cons of the different forms of the vaccination.

    A study tested three types of Kennel Cough vaccines for effectiveness.

    Kennel cough in dogs is very similar to the flu in humans. The Flu and kennel cough are such good friends that they share a sickness season! So you and your pup could end up cuddling with your rosy, runny noses and box of tissues beside you on a chilly winter’s day.

    As with the flu vaccine in humans, there are so many different strains of the virus that it’s virtually impossible to protect against all mutations in existence. The vaccination may decrease the symptoms’ severity, but there is no guarantee that the vaccine will protect your dog from contracting kennel cough from another infected doggo.

    About 70 – 80% of kennel cough cases are lessened in symptom severity or avoided entirely with the use of the vaccine, while 20 – 30% are not. The Bordetella vaccine is not useful in cases where the dog is already incubating the bacteria.

    Kennel Cough Symptoms Infographic

    For quick tips on the common signs of kennel cough, and the level of severity, check out our kennel cough symptoms infographic!

    Kennel cough symptoms infograohic

    Download infographic.

    Early Symptoms of Kennel Cough

    Early Symptoms of Kennel Cough in DogsDogs will still be active and eating and drinking as usual, however there are some early symptoms you can pick up on:

    1. A mild cough
    2. Sneezing
    3. Snorting

    Mild Cough

    When Bordetella enters the respiratory system, it can cause inflammation of the larynx and trachea, causing a dry cough across the board in almost every case.
    • Kennel cough sound can vary from honking to gagging and more.
    • You may think they have something stuck in their throat.
    • You will be able to tell the difference between this and your dog’s standard “I got a blade of grass stuck in my throat” hack.


    This can involve abnormal nasal excretions – lovely.


    This one is a little out of the ordinary but your dog should have no trouble breathing or lethargy.

    If your dog has such slight symptoms, you may consider trying some home remedies for kennel cough.

    If symptoms continue to worsen or do not improve within one week, call or visit your veterinarian.

    Mild Symptoms of Kennel Cough

    Mild symptoms manifest a lot like a cold or a sinus infection would in humans. Slight symptoms include:

    • Persistent cough
    • Discharge of the eyes
    • Nasal secretions
    • Difficulty breathing

    Persistent cough

    The number one and most universal symptom – dry, hacking cough. As the symptoms worsen, the dogs may cough up foamy white phlegm.

    Discharge of the eyes 

    Referred to as Conjunctivitis, or pink eye to us humans. In dogs, it comes with gooey runny green slime, fondly known as eye boogers. 

    Nasal secretions

    Runny noses can range from a watery, clear liquid to a thick yellow discharge fondly known as normal boogers.

    Difficulty breathing

    Between the inflamed larynx and the stuffy nose, there’s bound to be some difficulty breathing. Keep a close eye on your furry friend.

    You can try to give them a steamy bath while being careful the water is not too warm or cold. Just taking them to a steamy bathroom can help soothe the chest congestion.

    Remember that dogs get freaked by loud noises, so consider steaming up the bathroom then bringing the dog in after you have turned off all of the faucets.

    Stages of Kennel CoughSymptomsTreatment
    • Slight, dry cough
    • Sneezing
    • Activity level remains unchanged
    • Rest
    • Hydration
    • Nutrition
    • Isolation
    • Dry, hacking cough
    • Sneezing
    • Watery, nasal secretions
    • Irritated eyes with possible gooey discharge
    • Rest
    • Hydration
    • Nutrition
    • Isolation
    • Cough suppressants
    • Antibiotics (possibly)
    • Persistent, dry, retching cough
    • Gagging, and coughing to the point of vomiting.
    • Watery or thick yellowish nasal secretions
    • Irritated eyes with gooey discharge
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Lethargy
    • Loss of appetite
    • Fever
    • Rest
    • Hydration
    • Nutrition
    • Isolation
    • Antibiotics
    • Hospitalization
    • Intravenous fluids
    • Oxygen therapy

    *Dogs usually don’t lose their appetite or energy for playtime in the early stages or mild kennel cough stages. If your dog is lethargic, it may have a more severe case or have an infection, and should see the vet right away.

    Severe Symptoms of Kennel Cough

    Severe Kennel Cough SymptomsIf your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your veterinarian immediately.

    • Constant violent cough
    • Loss of appetite
    • Lethargy
    • Trachea sensitivity
    • Fever

    Constant violent cough

    If your dog is coughing so hard that he starts to vomit, it’s time to see the vet.

    Loss of appetite

    If your dog loses interest in food and water, this is a telltale sign that their condition is deteriorating rapidly. Time to call the vet.


    As pet owners, we know when our dog is acting out of the ordinary. If your dog has lost interest in playing, even his favorite treats and toys, that’s a telltale sign that things are serious.

    Trachea sensitivity

    Due to the trachea’s inflammation and consistent, spontaneous coughing, the dog may have a sore throat sensitive to collars and light pressure.

    Be sure to walk your dog with a harness or gentle lead to avoid causing excess inflammation of the throat.


    Kennel Cough rarely mutates into something in need of hospitalization, but a fever signifies that further medical help is needed. If left untreated, kennel cough can lead to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

    Kennel Cough Symptoms in Puppies

    Kennel Cough in Puppies

    Puppies are more susceptible to Kennel Cough due to their underdeveloped immune systems. Though they may seem healthy and agile, their immune systems are still too immature to fight off the Bordetella bacteria.

    Puppies should stay close to home and avoid boarding for the first 3-6 months of their precious lives.

    The following are common symptoms of Kennel Cough in puppies:

    • Dry Cough
    • Runny eyes and nose
    • Sneezing
    • Fever
    • Abnormal breathing patterns
    • Retching
    • Loss of appetite
    • Loss of energy

    While most of these symptoms are obvious, here are a few details:

    Dry Cough

    Choking, gagging, retching.

    Runny eyes and nose

    Watery or yellowish discharge


    This is serious. Do not let it go untreated.

    Abnormal breathing patterns

    You probably know what your puppy sounds like from them sleeping next to or on your head for the past three months, so pay attention. If you feel like something is wrong, don’t wait; call the vet.

    Loss of appetite

    Again, this is a dead giveaway that your dog is not okay and needs medical intervention.

    Loss of energy

    A relaxed and chill puppy? No way! There must be something going on here. Call and visit your vet!

    Where Are Dogs Most Likely To Pick Up Symptoms of Kennel Cough?

    Common Places Dogs Contract Kennel CoughIdeal breeding places for the Bordetella bacteria are places that are:

    • Crowded areas
    • Warm places
    • Areas lacking ventilation
    • Travel & stress

    Crowded places

    Cluttered rooms and cramped buildings, especially if they’re not consistently cleaned, are a breeding ground for Bordetella bacteria.

    Warm places

    We all know bacteria do best in warm, moist climates, and this one is no different. Dogs tend to show signs of kennel cough more often in the Spring and Summer months for this reason.

    Areas lacking proper ventilation

    Remember how your grandma swore by leaving the bedroom window open a pinch even in the bitter winter months? She raved of the benefits of airing out the house every so often, and now, so do you! Well, same thing here. The fresh air is good.

    Travel & Stress

    How to Tell if My Dog has Kennel CoughTraveling with a dog can be glorious, but it can also be stressful. Stress can contribute to the diminishing of the dog’s immune system and the heightened susceptibility of infection. 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.

    Here are a few common examples of places where your dog can pick up Kennel Cough:

    • Boarding Kennels – Hence the name “Kennel Cough.”
    • Grooming shops
    • Animal Shelters
    • Dog Parks
    • Vet’s Office
    • Pet Stores

    Any places where a large group of dogs meets up to play can be risky. Don’t keep your dog locked up like Mommy Dearest but erring on the side of caution is never a bad idea. Most kennel cough cases are benign and will heal themselves in a few weeks.

    Keep in mind; Kennel Cough is super contagious and airborne, so an outbreak at your boarding facility doesn’t necessarily mean that they violate any of these guidelines.

    The Bordetella bacterium spreads via droplets in the air, through sneezes, slobber, and sweet dog kisses. It is possible to have a mass case before you can say “Bordetella!” even in the most sanitary conditions.

    What is the Incubation Period for Kennel Cough Symptoms?

    It can take anywhere from 2-14 days after exposure to kennel cough for symptoms to appear initially. 

    Often, the cough will go away on its own with rest and some natural cough suppressants. If coughing persists beyond one week, seek medical attention.

    How Long Do Kennel Cough Symptoms Last?

    Kennel cough symptoms can continue for 10-20 days and can recur when the dog is under the stress of travel or the like.

    Most kennel cough cases are resolved within three weeks or double that (six weeks) for the immunocompromised doggos like puppies and seniors.

    What Can I Give My Dog for Kennel Cough Symptoms?

    The cough sounds terrible, and it hurts to see your favorite canine coughing, sneezing, and feeling blah; luckily, most cases clear up on their own after a few weeks with the help of some good old cold cures.

    Follow these 5 preventative steps to keep Kennel Cough at bay:

    1. Rest & relaxation
    2. Hydration
    3. Clean eating
    4. Cough suppressants
    5. Antibiotics

    Rest & Relaxation

    It might not mean the same thing to the dogs as it does to us, but there isn’t much difference. If your dog has a bit of a cough but is acting normal otherwise, eating well, and doesn’t have a fever, the vet may suggest skipping the visit for now and instead prescribe a steady stream of rest.


    Just as we do, dogs need lots of fluids to aid in their recovery. Drinking water improves brain function and helps to keep you regular. Dogs enjoy the same benefits.

    Clean eating

    Your dog doesn’t have to go plant-based, but if your perfect pup isn’t feeling 100 percent, you can consider switching up their diet with healthier options. Always consult with your vet before changing your dog’s diet.

    Cough Suppressants

    The vet can offer or suggest prescription cough suppressants or natural ones to soothe your baby’s sore throat and calm the hacking.


    In some cases, antibiotics are necessary to prevent secondary infections from occurring.

    How to Avoid Reinfection in Multi Dog Homes

    If you have a pack of fur babies at home, follow these three steps to break the cycle of Kennel Cough infection:

    1. Disinfect and wash your hands often
    2. Isolate sick dogs from the rest (if you can)
    3. Minimize toy sharing

    Disinfect and wash your hands often

    Though Bordetella is airborne and still capable of being spread when cleanliness is evident, it is always the best idea to keep things extra clean and sanitary.


    Separation is no fun, but if you have other animals in the house, you will need to isolate whoever has Kennel Cough separately.

    Kennel Cough is so contagious; that multiple dogs could swiftly transfer the illness back and forth indefinitely.

    Don’t share

    Sharing is usually caring but not in this case. Sanitize all of the toys, especially the favorite ones. Kennel cough is spread and contracted by particles in the air and can also be on your dog’s favorite slobber ball. They probably won’t like a newly sanitized ball as much, but look at the bright side, they get to muck it up again!


    If you’re reading this, I’ll guess that you agree – our animals are our life. Dogs are all loving, and we could all stand to learn a thing or two from them—compassion, a lust for life, and simple pleasures, and loyalty that has no end.

    Our dogs make us smile in our darkest times. With just a snuggle, a sweet glance, or an offered paw, they bring endless joy into the mundane everyday. With every ball thrown and every walk you’ve taken together, our furry companions grow closer to our hearts.

    We dog lovers only want the best for our fur kids, so we get up at 6 am for a morning stroll; we stay outside in the cold to watch them delight in the pouncing of snow waves, and we do our research on how to best take care of them when they have seen better days.

    Caring for a dog is one of the biggest and best responsibilities any human can ask for, and we try to be worthy of their love by doing the best we can for them and their health.