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Kennel Cough: Understanding Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex

Amidst the hubbub of barking, tail-wagging, and playful paws that can be the norm for dog owners, a persistent cough tends to be an unwelcome occurrence. Although kennel cough often sparks concern among dog lovers, it’s generally not a harbinger of doom. That said, with the recent rise in cases, it’s a topic that does warrant attention.



Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), is a common ailment that affects dogs of all breeds and ages. This highly contagious respiratory infection can spread rapidly in places where dogs congregate, such as kennels, dog parks, and grooming facilities. In this blog, we’ll explore what kennel cough is, how dogs can catch it, its symptoms, possible treatments, and the prognosis for affected dogs.


What is Kennel Cough?

Canine infectious respiratory disease complex is a term used to describe a group of highly contagious respiratory infections in dogs. The primary pathogens responsible for CIRDC are Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria and a group of viruses, including canine parainfluenza virus and canine adenovirus. Dogs can also be infected by multiple pathogens at the same time. When these pathogens infect a dog’s respiratory tract, they can cause inflammation and lead to characteristic symptoms.


How Do Dogs Catch CIRDC?

Dogs become infected through direct contact with other dogs, as the bacteria and viruses responsible for this disease are easily transmitted through respiratory secretions. This can occur when dogs:

  • Socialize with Infected Dogs: Dogs are social animals, and they often come into close contact with other dogs at parks, kennels, and doggy daycares. These environments provide ample opportunities for the disease to spread.
  • Share Contaminated Objects: Dogs can come into contact with contaminated objects such as toys, food bowls, or grooming equipment used by infected dogs.
  • Inhale Airborne Pathogens: Bacteria and viruses can linger in the air for a period, making it possible for dogs to inhale them during close proximity to infected dogs.


Symptoms of Kennel Cough

Some dogs may exhibit no symptoms. However, CIRDC typically presents with a distinct set of symptoms, including:

  • Persistent Coughing: The most common sign is a dry, hacking cough that often sounds like honking or gagging with a retch or a hack at  the end of the cough. This cough can be triggered by excitement or exercise.
  • Sneezing and Nasal Discharge: Some dogs with kennel cough may also have sneezing fits and develop a clear or slightly mucus-like nasal discharge.
  • Low-grade Fever: In some cases, affected dogs may run a mild fever.
  • Loss of Appetite and Lethargy: Dogs experiencing symptoms might lose interest in food and appear less energetic than usual.

The sound and character of the cough is one way to diagnose kennel cough. Depending on your dog’s clinical status, additional tests may needed. If multiple dogs are sick or if your pet’s symptoms are worsening despite care, your veterinarian may take swabs from the throat, nose, or edge of the eyes for lab testing. Radiographs or other tests may be needed if your pet is not improving.

It’s important to note that while kennel cough is usually not life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable for your furry friend. If you notice these symptoms, consult with your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and guidance on treatment.


Possible Treatments

The treatment for canine infectious respiratory disease complex depends on the severity of the infection. Often, mild cases of CIRDC will resolve on their own without intervention. However, if the cough persists or worsens, or if the dog is at risk of complications, your veterinarian may recommend:

  • Rest: Giving your dog plenty of rest will help their immune system fight off the infection. Avoid strenuous exercise and activities that can exacerbate the cough.
  • Cough Suppressants: In some cases, your vet may prescribe cough suppressants. This could alleviate your dog’s discomfort and reduce the frequency of coughing episodes.
  • Antibiotics: If the underlying cause is a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection.
  • Intranasal Vaccination: For prevention, especially in high-risk environments, your veterinarian may recommend  vaccines for Bordetella bronchiseptica and other common pathogens.


Prognosis for Dogs with Kennel Cough

The prognosis for dogs with kennel cough is generally positive. Most cases resolve within 4 weeks with appropriate care. However, it’s important to monitor your dog closely and seek veterinary care if the symptoms persist or worsen.

CIRDC can lead to complications such as pneumonia, even in previously healthy dogs. Recently in Castle Rock, there has been an increased number of kennel cough and pneumonia cases coming to our hospital. Prompt veterinary attention is crucial if you suspect your dog is developing complications. For example, if your pet becomes more lethargic, stops eating, or if the sound of the cough changes, we recommend reevaluation of your pet. Radiographs to check for pneumonia could be recommended.

Since these bacteria/viruses are very contagious, be sure to call prior to heading to your vet. Precautions may be made to ensure other dogs aren’t infected.


Preventative Measures

Prevention is the best strategy when it comes to kennel cough. But, this can sometimes be difficult since some dogs may be be able to transmit the disease before they exhibit symptoms. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of your dog contracting this contagious disease:

  • Vaccination: Keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date, including the kennel cough vaccine. Discuss the appropriate vaccination schedule with your veterinarian. Keep in mind that the vaccine may reduce the severity of clinical signs but may not prevent an infection.
  • Limit Exposure: Avoid situations where your dog is in close contact with unfamiliar dogs, especially if you are aware of recent outbreaks in your area.
  • Hygiene: Ensure good hygiene practices, such as cleaning and disinfecting shared objects and avoiding contaminated areas.
  • Isolate Sick Dogs: If your dog shows symptoms of kennel cough, keep them isolated from other dogs to prevent further spread of the disease.



Kennel cough, or canine infectious respiratory disease complex, is a common and highly contagious respiratory infection in dogs. While it can be uncomfortable for your furry friend, most cases are mild and resolve with rest and care. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for kennel cough, you can help keep your dog healthy and prevent the spread of this disease to other dogs in your community. If your dog exhibits persistent or severe symptoms, always consult your veterinarian for guidance and treatment.

If you are questioning the seriousness of your dog’s condition, make an appointment to see your family veterinarian or bring your pet to the nearest 24-hour emergency hospital.



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