Canine infectious tracheobronchitis: it’s a disease that affects almost every dog at least once in their lives. As a dog owner, it’s important you understand what it is, how it’s transmitted, and what to do about it if your dog is infected.

What is it?

The infection attacks the respiratory system and causes dogs to produce a dry, hacking cough that can produce a retching sound or, in severe cases, vomiting. It’s not to be confused with a high-pitched cough (one often accompanied by your dog licking its lips: typically a sore throat or, in more severe cases, tonsillitis) or a wet cough (typically caused by phlegm, which might suggest pneumonia). Canine infectious tracheobronchitis is its own separate beast and highly contagious, so dogs who live within close proximity of one another are likely to pass it on.   

What can I do about it?

You can get your dog vaccinated for the virus at your local vet but it’s worth noting that the virus is agile enough to occasionally find a workaround. In other words, even dogs that receive a vaccination are able to get infected, though the likelihood is reduced.

Kennel cough typically lasts three weeks before the symptoms disappear, and if your dog is healthy, it shouldn’t be slowed down too much. provided your animal still has a healthy appetite and is showing decent energy levels there’s nothing to be unduly worried about.

You can, however, visit your local vet, who will prescribe you antibiotics to clear the symptoms.

If symptoms get worse and your dog begins to exhibit weight loss, or an inability to take on any food, take your animal back to the vet immediately.

Can I get sick from it?

While technically you can, this is extremely rare and not something to be concerned about.

How is it spread?

The coughing mechanism is the spreading mechanism too. The virus leaves the dog’s mouth and goes airborne, infecting other animals in its vicinity. Unclean bedding or grooming tools can also carry the virus.

Exercise is a no-no

Dogs struggling with their cough will often exhibit severer symptoms after you’ve gone for a spot of exercise together. Listen out for whether the cough does indeed sound worse and limit exercise in response. You want the cough to clear up before you tax the lungs and cardiovascular system of your animal. Once the symptoms seem to have died down, it’s okay to resume your usual routine.

How long will my dog be sick for?

Symptoms typically last up to three weeks before they begin to clear, though kennel cough can last double that in older dogs with weaker immune systems. In rare cases, the virus can actually develop into pneumonia, though this is unlikely, and should necessitate a trip to the vet immediately.

If it progresses, and pneumonia develops, what do I look out for?

Dogs suffering from pneumonia will typically lose weight rapidly, appear extremely dehydrated, lack energy, exhibit faster breathing patterns and bring up phlegm. Weight loss is the most obvious sign of the disease so monitor your dog’s appetite and get a feel for their fat levels by running your hand across their coat and under their belly.

In the end, any dog exhibiting a cough normally has something wrong with them. While it’s perfectly normal for us humans to clear our throats, a dog that’s doing the same is normally infected with a virus. The upshot? Monitor the symptoms and take the necessary precautions. Limit exercise, give your dog three weeks to recover, and if they’re still not in the clear, pay your vet a visit.