Canine Cough and Your Pet: What You Need to Know

If your furry family member takes vacations at a dog boarding facility, you’ve likely heard of canine cough. But do you know exactly what it is, and more importantly, what steps to take if your pup contracts it?

The doggy common cold

Infectious canine tracheobronchitis, otherwise known as canine cough, is the pooch equivalent of a cold or the flu. Like the common cold, canine cough is contracted through close contact with an infected dog. As the name implies, canine cough can be transmitted between dogs at boarding facilities, but your tail-wagger can also pick it up anywhere dogs spend time together, including doggy daycare, the groomer, dog shows, or even the dog park.

Dogs start to show symptoms of canine cough a week to 10 days after exposure. The most common sign of infection is a dry, persistent hacking cough that sounds like the dog has something stuck or caught in her throat. The cough is sometimes accompanied by retching or gagging, sneezing, a runny nose, or eye discharge. And just like a human feeling under the weather, a sick pup may also be lethargic and have little or no appetite.

Prevention is the best medicine

Reputable animal facilities take steps to minimize the risk that their four-legged guests will go home with a case of canine cough. Proper sanitation, keeping the boarding area well ventilated, ensuring that all guests are current on their vaccinations, and postponing the stay of any pup that shows signs of illness can help keep canine cough at bay.

The vaccine against canine cough, known as bordetella, is a key step toward keeping your best friend healthy. Veterinarians generally recommend dogs get a bordetella shot every 6 to 12 months, in part because of how the vaccine works. Similar to a human flu shot, each year the bordetella vaccine is developed in response to the strain or strains of canine cough that are expected to be most common. The vaccine can be given as a shot, a nasal mist, or by mouth.

However, like the flu shot, the bordetella vaccine isn’t a guarantee–it is generally about 60% effective and preventing the disease. Healthy dogs are less likely to contract canine cough if they are exposed, so ensure your dog’s immune system is in tip-top shape with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and low-stress, peaceful lifestyle.

My dog has canine cough! Now what?

Even with all the right precautions—a quality facility, up-to-date vaccinations, a healthy doggy lifestyle—your pup could come down with canine cough. If your dog shows symptoms, don’t panic! Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. In most cases, canine cough runs its course in a couple of weeks with rest and care.
  2. Keep your pet quiet and away from other dogs to avoid spreading the disease. Keep your pooch away from the dog park and limit walks.
  3. If your dog comes down with canine cough while boarding, you’ll be asked to pick him up as soon as possible.   
  4. Using a humidifier (or a steam-filled bathroom) can help ease your pooch’s cough.
  5. The internet is full of advice on canine cough—check with your vet before giving your dog any home remedies or people medicine.
  6. Puppies, senior dogs, and those with a weak immune system are more likely to develop complications with canine cough. If you are concerned about the severity of your dog’s symptoms, or if your dog isn’t improving with time, get your furry friend into the veterinarian. Your vet might suggest antibiotics for a more speedy recovery and can make sure that your dog’s cough isn’t caused by another more serious condition like distemper.