canine cough

Dr Rebecca Nathan

Is your canine coughing?

Kennel Cough or Canine Cough is one of the most common upper respiratory tract diseases we see here in Adelaide. The disease is found worldwide and will infect a very high percentage of dogs in their lifetime. Despite its name, “Kennel cough”, dogs do not necessarily only contract it while boarding in kennels. It is highly contagious and can be transmitted by nose to nose contact with an infected dog or by sharing food and water bowls.

Infectious agents:

There are many different agents that can cause Canine Cough. The two most common are Parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. Mycoplasma, Canine adenovirus, Reovirus, and Canine Herpes virus are other less common agents that are thought to possibly contribute to the disease.

Parainfluenza virus is the most common viral agent in Canine Cough. This virus causes mild symptoms, which generally last around 5-7 days unless there is secondary involvement with other bacteria (which is usually the case). Both our C5 vaccine and KC booster vaccines offer some protection against this virus.

Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacterial agent in Canine Cough. Symptoms occur around 3-5 days after exposure, and if uncomplicated with other agents, will last around 10 days. However, after signs of the infection have been resolved, the affected animal will continue to shed the bacteria for 6 to 14 days and can spread the disease to other susceptible animals during that time. Both our C5 vaccine and KC booster vaccines offer some protection against these bacteria.

Canine Cough is commonly a result of a combination of Parainfluenza and Bordetella infection and symptoms of this duo last from 14-20 days.


The most common symptom is a dry hacking cough sometimes followed by retching. The cough can be so severe, that it often sounds as if the dog is choking! A watery nasal discharge may also be present. With mild cases, dogs continue to eat and be alert and active. Many times, there is a recent history of boarding or coming in contact with other dogs, such as dog training classes or visits to the dog park or beach! In more severe cases, the symptoms can include lethargy, fever, inappetence, pneumonia, and in very severe cases, occasionally death. The majority of severe cases occur in immuno-compromised animals (e.g. animals on chemotherapy), or young unvaccinated puppies.


Your veterinarian can typically diagnose Canine cough from a physical exam and history of recent exposure to other dogs. The cough is very distinct and can be easily elicited by massaging the dog's larynx or trachea. However if your dog is showing more severe signs of illness, your veterinarian may want to perform diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) chest x-ray, and laboratory analysis of the micro-organisms inhabiting your dog's airways. These tests can help determine whether the dog has developed pneumonia or another more serious illness.


Treatment is dependent on the severity of the infection. Not all cases require antibiotics. For those cases that do, we will generally use a broad spectrum antibiotic that will cover for both Bordetella and Mycoplasmas. We will also often prescribe a course of anti-inflammatories to help with mild pain and inflammation of the throat. This can also help reduce fever. In some cases we may also prescribe a cough medicine or elixir.

In more severe cases where the animal is not eating, running a high temperature, or showing symptoms suggestive of pneumonia, stronger antibiotics are used and we may recommend your animal to be hospitalised for intravenous fluid therapy and other treatments.

Vaccination and prevention:

Vaccination can provide protection against contracting the disease, but because there are so many different agents that can cause Canine Cough they do don’t offer full protection. They will, however, help reduce the severity of the disease if the animal becomes infected. We advise an intranasal vaccination at 10 weeks of age, followed by an annual booster.

In kennels where Canine Cough is a problem, strict hygiene with thorough cleaning and disinfection of cages and food and water containers is essential. In addition, kennels that are indoors should have good ventilation with an air turnover rate of at least 12 times an hour. Agents causing Canine Cough can be transmitted on hands and clothing as well as through the air, so infected animals must be isolated and handlers should wear gloves and use proper hand washing to help prevent spread. Vaccination of all animals, especially puppies is indicated in problem kennels.


Glenelg Vet
597 Anzac Highway, Glenelg
South Australia 5045
Ph: 08 82951312
fax: 08 8376 4866

Opening Hours
Monday-Friday 8.00am - 6.30pm
Saturday 9.00am - 2.00pm

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