Pet Health
dog coughing kennel cough symptoms treatment

Dog Coughing - Symptoms, Kennel Cough, & Treatments

Written by Steph McCulloch


Kennel cough (canine infectious respiratory disease complex) is the widely recognised name given to a respiratory infection caused by multiple bacteria and viruses. Just like us humans can contract chest infections, dogs are susceptible to nasty germs that cause coughing and other health conditions.
a dog wrapped up in a blanket


Has your dog started coughing recently? Do you feel worried and unsure if a trip to the vet is needed?

Some of the most common causes of coughing in dogs range from atmospheric irritants such as air fresheners, cigarette smoke, fireplace ash, etc whereas the clinical signs of medical issues range from kennel cough, influenza, pneumonia, heart disease, and tracheal collapse. 
Whilst it may seem easier to dismiss a cough as nothing and think it’ll go away on its own, it’s always worth taking it seriously and getting your pooch checked out immediately. With that said, an occasional cough is completely normal for a dog, however, a chronic cough can be a sign of a more serious health issue which requires a proper diagnosis.

From mild to more concerning issues that lots of owners feel very unfamiliar with, we’re here to look into them all and discuss coughing symptoms, kennel cough, and treatments to help your dog feel like their best self again.

Have other health concerns? Waggel is on hand to offer our expert advice on all kinds of topics from kennel cough to puppy diarrhoea, to help ease those new-owner worries.

Kennel cough: understanding the basics

A dog being comforted by its owner

Kennel cough (canine infectious respiratory disease complex) is the widely recognised name given to a respiratory infection caused by multiple bacteria and viruses. Just like us humans can contract chest infections, dogs are susceptible to nasty germs that cause coughing and other health conditions.

Kennel cough is not considered very dangerous and can clear up without the need for treatment. However, puppies and seniors are more vulnerable and are likely to have existing medical conditions which can lead to complications.

The most common symptom of kennel cough is, you’ve guessed it, a forceful cough. It can often sound like a hacking noise and as if your dog has something stuck in their throat. Whilst it can sound worrying, it is often not permanently damaging.

Excessive hacking can be followed by mucus or white bile so it’s always best to ensure your dog has water on hand to keep them hydrated when they’re poorly.

Kennel cough is an airborne illness meaning it spreads very quickly and often through places such as kennels. It can also be transmitted via bacteria found on toys or shared objects such as water and food bowls.

Note: a kennel cough-related cough is different from a reverse sneeze which can sound more like a struggle for breath. 

Dogs often recover from kennel cough without the need for treatment though it can persist for up to 6 weeks. To help your pooch on the road to recovery, it’s best to keep your home well-ventilated and avoid using a collar as it’s likely to aggravate the windpipe even further. If possible, a harness will be best.

In certain cases, treatment for kennel cough can be administered by a vet. This is often in the form of prescribed antibiotics to kill the Bordetella bacteria. Bordetella bacteria is the most common bacterial infection in kennel cough cases. 

Vets can also offer anti-inflammatories and cough suppressants to help your pet recover.

The best way to avoid kennel cough is to get your pet vaccinated. Some of the infections that can cause kennel cough are already included in your dog’s basic vaccination routine required when they are puppies include:


  • Canine adenovirus type two

  • Canine parainfluenza virus 

  • Canine distemper 

  • Canine influenza

As mentioned above, the most common bacteria is Bordetella bronchiseptica. Fear not, as this can be given in a separate vaccine either through an injection, nasal drops, or an oral solution. Because there are so many strains of kennel cough, vaccinations cannot guarantee 100% protection, instead, they can help to lessen symptoms and help to prevent severe disease.

The vaccine for Bordetella bronchiseptica can be given to pups from as little as 3 weeks of age and provides immunity for around 12 months. It’s also considered the fastest way to protect your pet. 

Once a dog has kennel cough, it is unlikely they will catch the same strain again for 6 to 12 months. However, like the common cold, there are many strains meaning your dog could catch another strain of kennel cough at any moment if they mix with other dogs who have it or frequent high-risk environments such as kennels, boarding facilities, shelters or any other crowded dog spaces.

Although protection is not fully guaranteed, you’ll find that most boarding kennels won’t accept dogs that haven’t been vaccinated. This is because kennel cough is so contagious and can impact vulnerable dogs. 

Canine influenza can be recognised by a moist cough , lack of appetite, eye discharge, nasal discharge, and lethargy. There are no recommended treatments for this apart from making your dog comfortable as the canine influenza virus can stay around anywhere from 10 days to a whole month!

Common causes of coughing in dogs

a sad looking dog on the arm of a sofa

So we’ve touched upon kennel cough, but this isn’t the only reason why dogs cough. Other common causes of coughing in dogs include tracheal collapse, heart disease, and lung tumours.

Tracheal collapse

The trachea is also known as the windpipe and connects the throat to the lungs. Small rings of cartilage hold up the tracheal wall and help it to maintain a tube-like shape. In dogs, the rings of cartilage do not cover the windpipe but instead cover around 80% to 83% of it. 

Sometimes these rings can lose their strength and begin to sag. This means the rings flatten when air is drawn in. This is otherwise known as tracheal collapse and means it is very difficult for your dog to get air to their lungs.

Some breeds are genetically disposed to tracheal collapse, however, it can occur in any dog despite their size or age. The most common sign of tracheal collapse is a dry, loud, harsh and raspy cough often described by owners and vets alike as a goose honk. 

The cough can worsen in high temperatures, at night, when your dog is excited, or when pressure is placed on their trachea.

Trachea collapse can be treated through medication, surgery, or both. Once diagnosed, your vet will talk through all of your dog’s options for treatment. Tracheal collapse is a progressive disease, but with treatment and therapy, many dogs look toward a long life.

Heart disease

Heart disease is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in dogs. Five of the most common types of heart disease include:

  • Mitral valve disease (MVD)

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy 

  • Arrhythmias

  • Congenital heart disease 

  • Pericardial disease

Symptoms of heart disease include a persistent cough and breathlessness. If you’ve noticed these signs in your dog, it is best to contact your vet immediately. Treatment for heart conditions often include monitoring to ensure it doesn’t progress, medication, and surgery if needed. If not treated, heart disease can cause other conditions such as congestive heart failure.

If your vet has diagnosed your dog with heart disease, they may prescribe them heart medications. This is only after they have a thorough physical examination. This can include blood tests and ultrasounds. 

There aren’t many things you can do to prevent heart disease once your dog has been born. However, because heart disease is predisposed in certain breeds it is worth doing your research and checking what screening programmes can be used to ensure the parent of your pup isn’t going to pass it down to them. 

Lung tumours

Tumours that originate in the lung are considered rare in dogs and equate to around just 1% of diagnosed cancers. However, cancer that spreads to the lungs (known as metastatic) is more common. In recent years, primary lung tumours have been identified more frequently as dogs live longer and have access to more in-depth medical care.

The most common signs and symptoms of lung tumours in dogs are coughing and respiratory issues. Though some dogs show more non-specific signs such as weight loss, tiredness, and loss of appetite. 

Heartworm disease is an additionally fatal illness both dogs and cats can contract. When heartworms infiltrate the lungs and respiratory tract, they cause a dry cough that can develop into coughing fits and subsequent fainting. This is known as heartworm-associated respiratory disease or (HARD).

If you think your dog may have heartworm disease or is showing other unusual signs such as coughing with blood, seek immediate veterinary care. 

What to do if your dog is coughing

Sick dog in bed

So your poorly pooch has a cough, what do you do?

A trip to the vet is sure to clear up any concerns and help you to get a clear diagnosis. Most of the time, a sudden cough is likely to be kennel cough. Though if not, your vet can conduct necessary tests to rule out any other illnesses.

If your dog is coughing frequently, we advise against walking with a collar as this can cause pain and discomfort to your furry friend.

Some vets will advise against walking at all if there has been an outbreak of kennel cough throughout your local area. Walking your dog in a busy area increases the chances of passing it on to somebody else's pet so it’s best to stay safe.

It’s really important not to self-diagnose at this stage and seek professional help. Allow us to introduce Joii. Joii is an online vet care platform free for Waggel members. Simply download their app, use their symptom checker and book a consultation.

A vet or nurse will be in contact with you in little to no time so you can gain peace of mind and a potential diagnosis. You can also buy over-the-counter medication through the Joii app and have it delivered straight to your house to help alleviate any coughing.

Taking your dog to the vet for treatment for a hacking cough is also important if you notice their symptoms haven’t cleared up. Self-treating your dog’s cough at home can cause more damage, and so too can leaving them home alone.

Leaving your dog alone whilst they suffer from a cough can be dangerous. Instead, it’s best you stay at home with them where possible and provide them with somewhere warm and comfortable to rest. It’s also important to provide them with plenty of water.

Treating kennel cough

a dog being hugged by its owner

Though kennel cough can be a serious problem, it can be treated with veterinary care. A typical case of mild kennel cough can be treated with one or two weeks of rest. However, a vet may also prescribe antibiotics to prevent further infection. 

Cough medication can also be prescribed to ease symptoms of coughing such as a dry or sore throat. Though your dog may show signs of improvement within a few days, it is important to continue giving them medication until the course is completed.

If your dog isn’t prescribed medication, the best thing you can give them is supportive care. Always follow the instructions given by your vet to ensure your dog recovers healthily and safely.

Caring for a dog with kennel cough

a sad looking dog under a blanket

Caring for a dog with kennel cough requires staying at home with them as much as possible and ensuring they aren’t mixing with other dogs. This will limit the spread and allow them to be cared for whilst they are unwell.

During this time, they may be feeling very lethargic and sore, it’s important to ensure they have a quiet and comfortable space to relax and recover. This means, if you have other dogs, try your best to keep them separate until your dog is recovered.

You may notice during this time that your dog’s appetite decreases. If they eat kibble or dried food, they may struggle due to a sore throat. In extreme cases, your vet will most likely recommend changing their diet to boiled chicken and cooked rice - softer foods which won’t irritate their throat. Softer foods are also less likely to cause further coughing and gagging. It may also be a good idea to add water to their kibble to soften it.

It’s also important to keep your dog away from inhalants and smoke. These irritants and chemicals can get into your dog’s airways and cause further aggravation. Even when your dog is healthy, you should always make sure these things are far away from them.

Kennel cough, although a common disease, can quickly turn ugly in older dogs so it’s important that you, as their owner, provide the best quality of care possible. This includes ensuring they’re eating and drinking plenty of fluids. Some vets may recommend adding manuka honey to their water to lubricate their throat. Honey is also antibacterial and antiviral.

For older dogs with kennel cough, rest is one of the most important factors when it comes to recovering. If you are worried about your older dog, always seek veterinary care and medical attention.


We understand that when a dog is coughing repeatedly, it can be scary. Though this doesn’t mean it’s always kennel cough or a more serious diagnosis. 

If you’ve noticed new symptoms such as persistent coughing in your dog but aren’t sure a visit to your local vet is needed, we recommend seeking veterinary care through Joii. As a Waggel member, this will always be free of charge. Simply download the Joii app and speak to a registered veterinarian at a time that suits you best.

Without a treatment plan, kennel cough can cause your dog to suffer from other illnesses and viral infections such as chronic bronchitis, canine influenza, and pneumonia.

There are also important precautionary measures to take to prevent kennel cough in dogs such as keeping a well-ventilated home, ensuring your dog is up to date with their vaccinations, and not smoking or using inhalants around your dog. All of these steps will help to avoid unnecessary coughing, gagging, and any medical emergencies.

If you’re interested in reading more medical-related articles so you can be the best pet parent out there, we recommend our guide to worms in dogs and tick removal - both of which are sure to get you up to speed on how to keep your dog as healthy and happy as possible.

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