Kennel cough is as common as, well, the common cold in human beings. It's really the canine equivalent. Highly contagious, dogs usually contract it while spending time in a boarding kennel, doggie daycare or other places with a lot of dogs under one roof. That's where the name originates.
Kennel cough's formal names are infectious tracheobronchitis or bordatella. It's primary symptom is -- you guessed it -- coughing. It's not just an everyday cough, though. It sounds like your dog has something stuck in his throat that he's trying to hack up, a honking noise or a reverse sneeze. The latter is the result of post-nasal drip, especially in little dogs.
Your dog will probably start coughing within two days to two weeks after exposure. Depending on his social situation, you may be able to figure out where he got it. For example, if he generally goes out in the yard but you took him to the dog park recently and he made some friends, that's where he may have caught it. If he's a social butterfly, flitting from daycare to obedience training to dog shows, it's much harder to pin down the source of the infection.
Like the common cold, most vets advise you to let the disease runs its course. Since most dogs don't display any symptoms other than the cough, eating and drinking normally, just wait it out for about three weeks. The worst coughing lasts about five days, then peters out over the next couple of weeks. However, if your dog is older or suffers from a compromised immune system, it can take twice as long for the disease to run its course. It goes without saying you should not expose him to other dogs. If he continues to worsen or appears to be actually sick other than the coughing, take him to the vet. In some cases, especially in puppies, old dogs and those with compromised immune systems, kennel cough can develop into pneumonia.
With older dogs, taking him to the vet if he appears to have kennel cough is always a good idea. She might have suggestions to relieve his coughing or speed along his recovery. This might include cough suppressants or using a humidifier in the room where he sleeps to ease his breathing.
Many boarding kennels, doggie daycares, canine grooming salons and similar facilities require vaccination for bordatella before allowing dogs on the premises. Your dog must receive this vaccination each year in order for it to have an effect. It's not the most effective vaccine, since bordatella consists of various strains. Depending on how much exposure your dog generally has to other canines and his health status, your vet may or may not recommend the vaccination if you don't frequent places with high dog traffic.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.