Kennel cough: what you can do about it

Kennel cough is a highly infectious disease which affects the respiratory system of dogs. It is common in rehoming centres and boarding kennels where large numbers of dogs are kept together.


How does kennel cough spread?

Kennel cough spreads between dogs when they sneeze and can be carried on toys, food bowls, people and crates. A few dogs may carry the disease and spread infection after coughing has ceased.

The symptoms

  • A dry cough brought on by excitement, exercise or pressure on the airway, for example a collar and lead
  • A clear nasal discharge and runny eyes may be present. If the discharge is thick and green/yellow in colour a secondary infection may be present which will require a veterinary opinion
  • Coughing is usually at its worst for the first seven to ten days but can persist for two to three months
  • Dogs that are susceptible to stress may develop a fever and become quite lethargic, with some loss of appetite
  • In very severe cases, progression to a bronchopneumonia may occur and is particularly a problem in young, old or debilitated dogs.

The treatment

In most cases your dog will overcome the disease with their own immunity. You can make your dog more comfortable by limiting their exercise and replacing their collar with a harness.

If your dog is showing signs of illness such as lethargy or loss of appetite, you should take them to a vet so they can decide if treatment is necessary.

If your dog is more severely affected, they may be given antibiotics to prevent secondary infection and the possible spread of disease to the lungs. 


Kennel cough vaccinations are available from your vet. Vaccination may be of limited effect due to the complex nature of the disease. Unfortunately it’s impossible to completely eradicate kennel cough from a rescue centre environment.