How Long Is Kennel Cough Contagious? (Vet Answer)


Dr. Chantal Villeneuve Photo

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Kennel cough is a mild, infectious disease that is highly contagious. This is why groomers, borders, and other places where dogs are in tight quarters often require the vaccine because it is so contagious.

It is also important to know when a dog is no longer contagious. But, as with most important things, there is no set number, and the answer is more complex than a simple number of days. However, the more you understand about this disease, the better you will be able to evaluate your dog’s response to the disease and protect them and your dog’s community.

Read on to understand more about kennel cough and how to best estimate when your dog is no longer contagious.

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What Is Kennel Cough?

There are several viruses and bacteria that can contribute to the syndrome kennel cough—triggering it, making it worse, or spreading it to others. The main infectious pathogen (a microscopic agent that spreads disease) is Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Kennel cough’s scientific name is infectious bronchitis, meaning it is an infection of the respiratory system. The viruses and bacteria that contribute to kennel cough work together to create a syndrome or infectious bronchitis complex.

a dachshund dog barking outside
Image Credit: Zanna Pesnina, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Kennel Cough?

The main sign of kennel cough is a honking and persistent cough. See below for other less common and less severe signs of kennel cough, but the main one is the cough.

Signs of kennel cough include the following:

  • Coughing
  • Coughing and retching
  • Discharge from the nose—mild
  • Sneezing
  • Otherwise, are often apparently healthy

How Long Does the Disease Take to Progress?

Once exposed, clinical signs will develop in 2–14 days, and the classic cough will start. Some dogs can carry the infection for months, though, without developing signs of disease.

Signs of infection usually start to improve about five days later but can linger on for 10–20 days.

While the cough can start improving within about five days, it can take much longer to go away completely. And, if it is not properly taken care of, it can reoccur.

As you are monitoring your dog’s cough, the infection takes a while to completely leave the body. Once they stop coughing, whether that is 7 or 21 days after they start, it is probably best to assume that they still have lingering infectiousness for a few days after that.

owner stroking the head of a cane corso dog
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What Are the Causes of Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is usually a self-limiting disease—the body usually defeats it by itself. However, just like any respiratory disease, if conditions are not great, it can escalate to pneumonia or bronchitis, particularly in young puppies, immunocompromised dogs, or older dogs (especially those with other respiratory problems).

How Does Kennel Cough Spread?

Kennel cough is airborne. It can spread through the air but also through shared bowls, toys, or other shared surfaces.

In a healthy dog, kennel cough occurs when the body is overwhelmed by the pathogens that cause kennel cough—the respiratory system is overwhelmed by ‘too many’ infectious agents.

However, there are certain conditions that can weaken the respiratory system, making it more susceptible to kennel cough infections.

  • Stress
  • Poor ventilation
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Overcrowded housing

Dogs kept in conditions like the above are more likely to develop kennel cough and also not recover from it easily.

golden retriever dogs lying on the floor with their owner at home
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How Do I Care for a Dog With Kennel Cough?

Let them stay home and have a few sick weeks. It’s okay that they can’t go to the dog park or can’t go for involved walks around other dogs because they should probably not be spending all their energy on exercise and running around, but instead on getting better.

Keep them isolated and reduce their exercise. Additionally, keep them warm and dry. Make sure the air they are breathing is not humid and fresh. And make sure they are not overly stressed and are eating well.

A vet may prescribe cough suppressants or pain relief. But antibiotics are not usually needed unless it gets worse.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I prevent kennel cough?

Vaccination and avoidance—scientifically referred to as isolation— are the manways to prevent kennel cough.

Vaccination

Making sure your dog is vaccinated against Bordetella bronchiseptica as well as canine flu will help create a baseline of protection.

However, these vaccines will not guarantee 100% prevention. There is still a chance your dog could get either pathogen. Plus, because kennel cough works as a syndrome, multiple pathogens working together to create disease can still overwhelm the vaccinated immune system. The vaccinations need boosters to remain effective.

dog getting a vaccine
Image Credit: Syda Productions, Shutterstock

Disease Isolation

Staying away from dogs with kennel cough is just as important. This means that if your dog has kennel cough, they will need to carefully avoid other dogs. Just practice your COVID-19 social distancing skills with your dog!

Keeping a dog home—out of daycare or the boarders—prevents other dogs from catching the disease and an unbreakable cycle of infection from spreading within the facility.

If your dog has kennel cough, keep them away from the following:

  • Daycare
  • Boarding facilities
  • Dog parks
  • Other dogs, both inside and outside

If you bring them to the vet, inform the vet beforehand that you suspect kennel cough so everyone can work together to make sure other dogs don’t catch it there. This also means that if your dog is a known higher risk, you may have to take extra precautions.

group of dogs playing in the park
Image Credit: Jon Osumi, Shutterstock

When can my dog go back to socializing?

It will depend on how long it takes for your dog’s cough to completely go away. And once that happens, I would even wait a week after that just to make sure they aren’t secretly spreading it to anyone else.

While it can feel frustrating to keep an active dog confined for this amount of time, just remind yourself how much you don’t want to socialize when you have a cold. Peaceful rest is the fastest way to recover from kennel cough, and the more thorough that isolation and rest is, the better they will recover.

I would recommend waiting 5–7 days after all clinical signs of kennel cough have disappeared before bringing your dog back into ‘the public’. However, this will depend on the facility. Each facility will have different rules around this. So, ask them too.

Also, be sure to tell your facility if your dog is diagnosed with kennel cough, so they can watch out for it and initiate procedures to make sure it does not spread further within their facility.

Will I catch kennel cough?

No. Kennel cough does not spread to healthy humans.

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Conclusion

Kennel cough is usually a mild disease, but because it is so infectious many dog facilities have strict rules around it. Keeping your dog away from other dogs with kennel cough and making sure they are vaccinated will help prevent it in your dog. And keeping your own dog isolated, no matter what, while they are sick will help create a safer community for them.

Who knew those COVID-19 social distancing skills would come in handy again?


Featured Image Credit: TsElena, Shutterstock

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