Kennel Cough: How To Prevent It Without The Vaccine

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / April 9, 2018
kennel cough

If your beloved furry companion sounds like they are trying to cough something up or making that unfavorable hacking sound, they may have canine infectious tracheobronchitis, a scary looking word for kennel cough.

The good news is, it sounds a lot worse than it typically is. In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about this infectious condition.

dog coughing

What is Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a respiratory disease in dogs that is highly contagious. Kennel cough is the household name for infectious canine tracheobronchitis.

As its medical name suggests, the disease is characterized by inflammation of the trachea and bronchi. The trachea is the windpipe that carries air from the bronchi to the mouth.

Although it sounds terrible, most of the time kennel cough is not a severe ailment. In fact, many dogs recover without medication.

A high percentage of dogs will be infected with kennel cough at least once in their life. This fact indicates the importance of pet owners knowing what to expect and how to manage the disease.

What Causes Kennel Cough

microorganism causes kennel cough

Kennel cough can be caused by multiple viruses making it difficult to pinpoint the exact culprit. The most prevalent microorganisms that lead to kennel cough are Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, canine adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and mycoplasma.

Dogs contract the kennel cough virus when they come in contact with the microorganisms and inhale the bacteria or virus particles into their respiratory tract.

The respiratory tract is usually lined with a protective mucus coating. This coating exists to prevent infectious particles from entering the trachea and larynx. When the mucus lining is weakened, the trachea and larynx are exposed and become inflamed. The inflammation is what causes the coughing reflex in your dog.

The immune system is often not able to fight off the highly infectious virus particles which, therefore, leads to the development of the kennel cough infection.

What Causes a Weakened Protective Lining

cigarette smoke and kennel cough

Several circumstances contribute to the debilitation of the respiratory tract’s protective lining.

Some of those factors include:

  • Exposure to crowded conditions
  • Vulnerability to poorly ventilated environments
  • Cold inside or outside temperatures
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Dust
  • Stress from traveling

Particularly the first two factors listed, but ultimately all of them, can be directly correlated with kennels and shelters. Hence, canine infectious tracheobronchitis getting its common name: kennel cough.

Can Dogs Get Colds?

Yes, in fact, kennel cough is the canine version of the common cold that humans get. The good news is no one dies of the common cold anymore. With that said, it can last up to three weeks and sound pretty awful. It can also cause pet owners a fair amount of anxiety if they don’t know what clinical signs to look for.

Kennel Cough Symptoms

kennel cough symptoms

As you might have guessed, coughing is a primary symptom of kennel cough, but it’s not the only sign to look out for in your dog.

Kennel cough symptoms include:

  • A persistent, forceful cough (the most common symptom)
  • Retching, or making the sound and movement of vomiting
  • Sneezing
  • A runny nose
  • Eye discharge
  • Coughing up foamy looking white phlegm
  • Nasal discharge

While there are clinical signs to look for, pet owners should not assume that a cough automatically translates to kennel cough. For example, kennel cough in dogs rarely causes a loss of appetite or lethargic behavior. If your dog has these symptoms they may have a condition more serious than kennel cough.

What is Lethargy

Lethargy describes a complete lack of energy and enthusiasm for things that used to excite.

Lethargy in dogs can have several underlying causes. From infection and disease to reactions to medications or pain, it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing your pup to not act quite like themselves.

Since lethargy is not a common sign of kennel cough, if your pup has symptoms of coughing and lethargy, you should seek medical attention to confirm its nothing more serious.

Dog Coughing : What Else Could it Mean

It’s pretty normal for your dog to cough from time to time. Like humans, dogs cough to clear their throats of dust, germs, and whatever else they may inhale. If you’ve ever taken a dog for a walk, based on how often the stop to “smell the roses,” you can imagine how much they breathe in.

However, if your pup is constantly coughing, they may be sick and need to see a veterinarian.

While kennel cough is the primary reason for coughing, it’s not the only diagnosis and the others can be very serious. In fact, kennel cough is one of the only ailments that have coughing as a symptom but doesn’t require medical attention right away.

Your dog’s coughing may be from:

Fungal infections

Fungal infections are often caused by yeast and other fungi in the air. Medication is usually the required treatment method.


Heartworms in dogs are caused by mosquitos. Medication can be harmful to your pup’s health, not to mention expensive. Holistic preventatives and treatments are available. You can even make your own mosquito repellent!

Heart Disease

Heart disease is caused by leaky valves that thicken the heart muscle and put pressure on the lungs. Proper diet and exercise can help prevent heart disease.

Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure causes fluid in the lungs, resulting in coughing.


Distemper is an airborne virus that causes coughing. While treatable and avoidable, it can be extremely severe because pet owners mistake it for their pup being under the weather.

Lung problems

Lung problems include common, serious infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Both of which require medical attention.

As you can see, pet owners should not assume that their dog’s cough is a simple case of kennel cough. If it is anything other than kennel cough, it can be quite severe.

What Does Kennel Cough Sound Like

Pet owners often describe kennel cough as sounding like a honk, specifically a goose honk.

One of the top Google searches regarding kennel cough happens to involve honking dogs.

This is not to be mistaken with the cough-sneezing combination that certain breeds of dogs have.

Hacking Cough

In addition to the honking sound, a course, dry hacking cough is also a common sign of kennel cough. A hacking cough usually occurs around three to seven days after the dog is initially infected.

Dogs who contract kennel cough are known to cough every few minutes, all day long.

Kennel Cough Season

Kennel cough is more likely able to happen in spring and summer.

This is in part because pet owners travel more often due to spring break and summer vacation, thus leaving their pet in boarding and kennels when they are away.

However, more so is the ever-changing weather in spring and summer that cause dogs to be more susceptible to kennel cough.

In the northern hemisphere, dogs (and pet owners) experience warm weather one day and snow the next. These changes affect the protective mucus coating of the digestive tract and increases the dog’s risk of contracting contagious diseases.

How is Kennel Cough (Canine Cough) Transmitted

how is kennel cough transmitted

A crucial part of preventing your pup from getting kennel cough is understanding how it is transmitted.

Spread Through the Air

Kennel cough is an airborne disease. When a dog barks, coughs, or sneezes, thousands of microscopic contaminants are emitted into the air. When another host ingests the contaminants, the infectious agents wreak havoc on the respiratory system. Kennel cough is a very contagious airborne disease.

Contact with Contaminated Objects

If an infected dog drinks from a water bowl or plays with a toy and then another dog comes into contact with the object, they will most likely contract the kennel cough disease. Bordetella can live on objects for 48 hours. It’s only a matter of time before another dog comes into contact with it.

Contact with Infected Dogs

Pet owners should be careful who their pup comes into contact with. Sniffing each other, playing, or even breathing the same air could be more than enough for your pup to contract kennel cough from an infected dog.

Who is at Risk for Kennel Cough

Young puppies are often more susceptible and had more severe symptoms of kennel cough due to their immature immune systems.

Older dogs, as well as dogs that are pregnant, are also at a higher risk of contracting kennel cough due to their lower immunity and decreased immune capabilities.

Additionally, dogs that have preexisting respiratory diseases are also at a higher risk.

However, ultimately, every dog faces the potential risk when they come in contact with elements that weaken the protection of their respiratory tract and allow bacteria and virus particles to enter.

Kennel Cough Treatment

As previously mentioned, kennel cough is highly contagious. If you think your dog may have kennel cough, keep them away from other animals in order to prevent spreading of the disease. Doing your part in deterring others from getting sick is very important.

With that being said, most cases of kennel cough do not need medical intervention and heal on their own. Due to the high toxicity levels of medications, it is always advised to allow the body to heal itself when possible.

Can Kennel Cough Get Worse

Although it doesn’t happen often, kennel cough has the ability to turn into pneumonia. If your dog doesn’t start improving within a couple weeks, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Also, if your dog has other health conditions, particularly those associated with the respiratory system, you should seek a proper medical diagnosis.

How You Can Ease Symptoms

Pet owners may want to consider using an air purifier or humidifier in their homes in order to ease coughing fits.

You’ll want to make sure that the air your pup is breathing isn’t going to irritate the inflammation any more than it already is.

We’ll also discuss the array of herbs and spices that can ease symptoms of canine cough in just a minute.

How Long Does Kennel Cough Last

Complete recovery from canine infectious tracheobronchitis can take up to three weeks in otherwise healthy dogs. Dogs with other underlying illnesses can take up to six weeks to fully recover.

Diagnosing Kennel Cough

The diagnosis of kennel cough is primarily based on the present symptoms and your dog’s exposure to other dogs.

Your vet will probably order chemical blood tests, a blood cell count, a urinalysis, fecal tests, and chest X-rays.

Occasionally, if your dog is administered antibiotics and doesn’t have a response to them, the vet may have to order additional testing to determine which microorganisms are causing the kennel cough.

Antibiotics for Dogs

By this point, it is hard to ignore the fact that antibiotics, vaccinations, and other medications have massively harmful side effects. They flood the body with toxins and are big time culprits of disease.

We could give a rundown of every vaccine you should want to avoid and why, but we will do our best to stay on topic.

Kennel Cough Vaccine

There are three forms of the kennel cough vaccine. It is administered by an injectable vaccine, orally administered, or nasal mist delivery called an intranasal vaccine.

The intranasal vaccine and oral vaccines are generally given to dogs once a year, but occasionally they will be recommended every six months for dogs at higher risks for contracting the kennel cough virus.

Kennel Cough Vaccines Don’t Fully (or Hardly) Protect

It is important for pet owners to understand that kennel cough vaccines do not guarantee the prevention of kennel cough.

Yes, you read that correctly. The often mandatory, toxic vaccine administered to your pup that is supposed to protect them from the virus can’t actually guarantee protection.

Additionally, the kennel cough vaccination will not treat active infections.

So why do so many kennels, dog boarding facilities, groomers, and even obedience classes require the vaccination? Here’s the hard truth – requiring the vaccines removes liability from the establishments.

Kennel cough is extremely contagious. When animals are housed in such tight quarters, it is only a matter of time before the virus starts spreading. Therefore, the establishments make the Bordetella vaccine mandatory in order to remove liability.


Bordetella is another way of referring to the kennel cough vaccine. Regardless of how you hear it referred to, the vaccine is surprisingly ineffective.

Pet owners need to realize that kennel cough is caused by a wide array of infectious agents. It is impossible for a single vaccine to protect against all of them. This means that even when dogs are vaccinated, contracting kennel cough is still very possible and common.

Bordetella Spreads Kennel Cough

When dogs are vaccinated with the Bordetella vaccine, small dosages of the disease are injected into their system so that their bodies can fight it off, as it goes with any vaccine.

However, when dogs are vaccinated with Bordetella, they shed the disease for up to seven weeks afterward. Therefore, if a dog who has recently been vaccinated shows up to the kennel or doggy daycare, they are not only likely to contract the virus but spread it as well.

Vaccination Toxicity

Furthermore, what do all vaccines have in common? Toxins. So, when we willingly (or forcibly if boarding is necessary) vaccinate, we are knowingly flooding our dog’s immune system with toxins for something that isn’t remotely guaranteed.

Really makes you think twice about these “necessary” vaccines.

What You Can Do

Boarding kennels, doggy daycares, and pet groomers really put owners in a difficult situation. You may need to use their establishment for one reason or another, but you understand the risks of vaccinations and don’t want to subject your pup to the harsh chemicals and side effects. What can you do?

Here are a few options you may want to consider. Of course, they are all suggestions as we understand every pet owner’s situation is different.

In regards to doggy daycare, pet owners may want to consider hiring a dog walker if possible. Alternatively, you can use apps like Wag or Rover to find a personal pet sitter who will send you daily updates and pics while you’re away!

Another option is to ask the boarding kennel and groomer if they would be comfortable with you signing a waiver. The waiver would say something like, ” I, __________ will assume all responsibility if my dog _______ contracts kennel cough, as he/she have not received the suggested vaccine. I will not hold ________ accountable.”

Most facilities would be fine with something like this on file, and if your pup did get kennel cough, it’s a quick road to recovery without a system full of toxins.

How to Treat Kennel Cough Holistically

We have discussed that kennel cough will likely cure itself and that it’s important to allow the body to heal itself whenever possible.

The following are holistic ways to ease the symptoms of kennel cough while the body rids itself of the infection.

  • Vitamins C and E – Vitamin C is an anti-viral and vitamin E promotes immune system support
  • Oregano oil – Has antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic properties
  • Nosodes – Stimulate the immune system to respond against specific diseases, particularly kennel cough
  • Esberitox – Reduces the virulence of Bordetella infections
  • Astragalus – Enhances the immune system and supports lung function
  • Raw garlic and olive leaf – Has antibacterial and antiviral properties
  • Essential oils – Can be used to help your dog breathe easier when fighting off the infection
  • Raw honey – Soothes the throat and suppresses coughing. Think of raw honey as we might use cough suppressants
  • Slippery Elm – Soothes irritated throats

As always, it is important to discuss options with your holistic veterinarian.

Preventing Kennel Cough Naturally

preventing kennel cough

Your dog’s immune system is a key factor in preventing against kennel cough.

A powerful immune system starts with a healthy gut. Dogs and their guts considerably benefit from whole food, raw based diets. This is a great place to start.

Additionally, add natural, specific herbs and spices that aid in boosting the immune system.

Here are a few herbs and spices to check out:


One of the best additions to boost your dog’s immune system is the household vegetable, garlic. It contains powerful antioxidants like vitamin A as well as minerals such as zinc and sulfur and a range of vitamin B’s.

Garlic also has potent antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antibacterial properties.

Pet owners can feed their dogs garlic raw in crushed or chopped form as well as in powdered form.

True Cinnamon

Similarly to garlic, cinnamon has potent natural antioxidants as well as antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

When treating the flu as well as kennel cough, cinnamon dissolves mucus while boosting the immune system.

It is important to note that while true cinnamon has substantial benefits, you are more likely to find cassia cinnamon which can be harmful to the liver. Make sure to use true cinnamon under the botanical name Cinnamomum zeylanicum. You can find it at specialized herb shops.

Rose Hips

Rose hips are a potent, powerful, natural source of vitamin C. Unlike synthetic vitamin C, rose hips are easy on the stomach and digestive tract. Rose hips are an ideal additional supplement to boost the immune system.


Echinacea has antimicrobial properties and the ability to fight off infections from environmental changes, including combatting viruses that lead kennel cough and other illnesses.


Chamomile has powerful anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that aid in healing. It also calms the nervous system as well as the digestive tract.


Like several of the herbs listed above, ginger has potent antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial properties. Ginger also supports the heart and the immune system.

Pet owners can feed their dogs fresh grated ginger root or powdered ginger.


As with any living creature, some of the best treatment lies in rest, good nutrition, and hydration. If your pup is diagnosed with kennel cough, try to keep them as calm and relaxed as possible. More often than not they will want to maintain their active lifestyle, but this will only lead to coughing fits. Rest and nutrition will do their bodies good.

Kennel Cough – The More You Know

the more you know about kennel cough

Everyday pet owners are faced with challenges of how to give their pups the best life possible. You want your baby to be healthy and happy, but what does that mean? Who do you listen to?

When it comes to the kennel cough vaccine, it is critical to know your options and understand the risks. It is also important to know why certain vaccinations are “mandatory.” Many times there is more going on than you may think.

In regards to the kennel cough virus, by taking precautions to avoid it, and treating it appropriately if diagnosed, pet owners will find that it’s really not as horrific as it sounds.


If my dog is coughing, does that mean they have kennel cough?

What does kennel cough sound like?

Is there a natural approach to kennel cough?

How can I prevent kennel cough?

Does the kennel cough vaccine have side effects?


Preventing Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough: Natural Prevention of the Canine Cold

Kennel Cough

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for