Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease affecting dogs of any age. There are several causes for kennel cough in dogs, including canine virus (SV5), canine adenovirus 2, Bordatella bronchiseptica, and several mycoplasma species (1). In this article I’ll go over some of the studies that have supported the effective methods of dealing with and even preventing kennel cough in dogs.
Table of Contents
A brief on kennel cough in dogs
Studies show that Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common cause of kennel cough in dogs. It is characterized by frequent dry and hacking coughs with high morbidity in canines (approx 80%) (2). Other symptoms may include retching and a watery nasal discharge.
Research estimated that a high percentage of dogs will become afflicted with kennel cough at least once during their lifetimes. Recent studies show that out of all tested dogs, about 50% of them had been infected with kennel cough virus (3, 4). Dogs are more likely to develop clinical signs of kennel cough after exposure to a large number of other dogs, particularly in the kenneled environment (hence the name) (5, 6).
Even though dogs of all ages can be infected with kennel cough, studies show that it’s most dangerous to young puppies (7). The disease is less prevalent in older dogs, and many adult dogs are less likely to show any clinical signs even after the infection (8).
Below is what you need to know about the treatment and prevention of kennel cough in dogs, and what options have been proven effective against the infection. I’ll include veterinary treatments with the best studies at the top, following with some holistic and natural treatments for kennel cough in dogs.
9 Ways to Treat Kennel Cough in Dogs
(Based on Studies)
Antibiotics are well-known antimicrobial drugs that are used to prevent bacterial infections in humans and animals. Research shows these to be the most effective way to deal with kennel cough in dogs. Some common antibiotics used for this in pets include:
- Amoxicillin/Clavulanic acid
In a study conducted by questionnaires distributed to random veterinaries in the UK, it was discovered that dogs treated with antibiotics, such as trimethoprim-sulphonamide, oxytetracycline, and ampicillin/amoxicillin, demonstrated a statistically significant decrease in the duration of coughing (9).
Another study that looked at 78 different isolates of Bordetella bronchiseptica found that all isolates were clearly sensitive to the above mentioned antibiotics: tetracycline, doxycycline, enrofloxacin, and amoxicillin/clavulanic acid. In total, 81% of the isolates were sensitive to ampicllin, 73% sensitive to trimethoprim, and 81% displayed sensitivity to sulphadiazine (10).
How do antibiotics work on dogs with kennel cough?
Antibiotics simply help the body to destroy the cells of the kennel cough BB infection. In a more scientific terms, antibiotics work by stimulating the production of hydroxyl radicals that are damaging to Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, leading to bacterial cell death due to oxidative damage to the cell (11).
But antibiotics don’t work 100% of the time…
Some strains of kennel cough infection (B. bronchiseptica isolates) contain plasmids that are not susceptible to antibiotics, which may limit options for respiratory tract infection treatment in dogs. Plasmids can be particularly difficult to treat because it can be transmissible to Escherichia coli K12 (E. coli), and is resistant to ampicillin, tetracycline, sulphonamides, streptomycin and mercuric chloride (12).
The use of antibiotics should be closely monitored by a veterinarian, and only used as a last resort and for a short period of time (as necessary). The reason is because constant use of antibiotics for treating kennel cough in dogs can lead to resistant bacteria, same as in humans, which makes them become less effective long-term (13).
Corticosteroids are steroid hormones that’re produced in the dog’s body, and manufactured for treating various infections. Essentially they are anti-inflammatory agents and work by increasing the expression of various inflammatory genes that regulate proinflammatory transcription factors (14). They’re the most effective treatment for some specific types of infections, but may be completely useless for others.
For example, Prednisolone is a steroid that is often used to treat allergies, inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders. It may also be effective against kennel cough in dogs. In a study where prednisolone was given orally or intraperitoneally to mice before exposure to Bordetalla, it was shown that prednisolone directed its activity against the heat-labile toxin (HLT) of Bordetella (15).
Studies with infants also show that treating with corticosteroids during and after a phase of bronchiolitis may reduce the incidence of asthma and subsequent bronchial wheezing (16). This is relevant because these respiratory conditions in humans are very similar to those of kennel cough in dogs.
Similarly, dogs treated with corticosteroids demonstrated significant decrease in the duration of coughing (9).
Common corticosteroids that are used for pets include the following:
- Triamcinolone (Vetalog)
- Methylprednisolone (Depo-Medrol and Medrol)
- Dexamethasone (Azium)
- Betamethasone (Betasone)
3 Intranasal Vaccine
A vaccine is a substance that triggers the production of antibodies in the dog’s body, which can provide immunity against disease. An canine intranasal vaccine is one that is administered to dogs via a nasal spray.
This type of vaccination has been shown to be effective for kennel cough in dogs (17). In one study, thirty beagle puppies who were negative for B bronchiseptica were divided randomly into 3 groups: (a) single intranasal vaccination 48 hours before challenge (i.e. exposure to B bronchiseptica), (b) single intranasal vaccination 72 hours before challenge, and (c) unvaccinated puppies.
Unvaccinated controls developed typical signals of infection after challenge, including pyrexia, spontaneous or induced coughing, nasal discharge and congestion. Puppies vaccinated 48 hours before challenge had clinical signs that were less severe, and puppies challenged 72 hours after vaccination showed no clinical signs of kennel cough at all, with the exception of one dog.
Puppies that were nasally vaccinated were then challenged with B. bronchiseptica showed fewer clinical signs and fewer lesions in the respiratory tract after 2 weeks. They also had significantly higher concentrations of B. bronchiseptica antibodies in serum saliva before and after the challenge, indicating that they were better equipped to fight off the kennel cough bacteria.
Another study confirmed this (18). Similar results were observed in healthy dogs with low antibodies against B. bronchiseptica. After being vaccinated intranasally with an avirulent live vaccine then exposed to B. bronchiseptica after 63 days, dogs had significantly lower cough scores and shed significantly fewer challenge organisms.
4 Intramuscular Vaccination
Intramuscular vaccinations are similar to intranasal vaccinations, except it is injected via needle into the animal. Some studies demonstrated the effectiveness of canine intramuscular vaccination against kennel cough in dogs (19).
One study had puppies that received intramuscular vaccination and were then challenged with B. bronchiseptica, after 2 weeks showed fewer clinical signs and fewer lesions in the respiratory tract. They also had significantly higher concentrations of B. bronchiseptica antibodies in serum saliva before and after the challenge.
Scientists have looked at the efficacy of several other intramuscular vaccines in dogs to see its effect in protecting against canine kennel cough (9). Vaccination against Bordetella bronchiseptica was associated with a reduced risk of the disease, with a decrease in the log odds of disease in animals that were vaccinated.
However, intramuscular vaccination may not be as effective as an canine intranasal vaccination. In a study with healthy dogs with low antibodies against B. bronchiseptica, intranasal and intramuscular vaccinations were compared (18).
The results showed how intranasally vaccinated dogs had a reduction in cough scores, while dogs that were vaccinated intramuscularly did not have a significantly different cough score than the placebo group that received no treatment.
Antitussives are medicines that fall into a category known as cough suppressants. There are antitussive cough medicine for dogs that may help fight some of the symptoms of kennel cough, and some of those may include cough relief meds.
In a 1956 study, small amounts of ammonia in air and water vapour were subjected to dogs to cause vibrant coughs or paroxysms of coughing, with larger amounts of coughing with a higher concentration of ammonia. Antitussive medication resulted in a higher threshold of ammonia treatment, indicating that it helped to prevent coughing (28).
Another study with 10 Labrador dogs with a history of dry cough, retching and gagging showed that treatment with dog cough relief aids and antitussive medication leads to a complete clinical recovery within 2 weeks of treatment (29).
Echinacea is a plant that results in non-specific stimulation of the immune system (20). These days, Echinacea is a popular remedy for flu and colds, and may even help to alleviate pain. It’s one of the better studied and sometimes proven holistic treatments in pets, and it may be effective against various canine respiratory diseases including kennel cough in dogs.
In one study, 41 dogs with chronic upper respiratory tract infection were examined before and after an eight week oral treatment with Echinacea (21). After 4 weeks of treatment, there was a significant reduction in the severity and disappearance of clinical symptoms, including nasal discharge, lymph node enlargement, dry cough, and noises in the lung.
In a separate vivo study, an herbal remedy containing Echinacea was applied to mice grafts to understand the immunological response (22). Echinacea stimulated the angiogenic (formation of new blood vessels) of spleen lymphocytes, indicating an enhancement of the immune system which would help fight off the kennel cough infection.
You may give echinacea with peanut butter as a treat for your dog.
This approach has even been studied (23). Echinacea at 50mg/kg mixed with peanut butter has shown beneficial effects when administered to 12 month old rats. Echinacea significantly increased circulating total white cell counts during the first 2 weeks of Echinacea treatment, followed by an increase in interleukin-2 levels during the final 5 weeks of treatment.
The above shows how this can help fight off kennel cough in dogs, because white blood cells are your canine’s body immune system cells that are involved in fighting against infectious disease and foreign invaders (24). And the interleukin-2 is a protein that regulates the activities of the white blood cells in the dog’s body (25).
Further studies show how echinacea purpurea treatment in mice improves immune system function, as evidenced by reducing the number of bacteria in the liver, and increasing the proliferation of lymphocytes and stimulation of granulocytes (26). Lymphocytes are important to the dog’s immune system as they are a type of white blood cell that can produce antibodies that attack foreign matter, such as invading bacteria, viruses, and toxins associated with kennel cough virus (27). Granulocytes are similar to lymphocytes, except they contain small granules that are filled with enzymes that can digest microorganisms.
A stabilizer to prevent wheezing, Nedocromil is a medication that has also shown great efficacy in treating shortness of breath, and other respiratory problems, many of which are related to canine kennel cough.
In one study, administration of an aerosol containing nedocromil sodium of approximately 15mg increased the lag time for the dogs to cough after exposure to a citric acid aerosol (31). It is hypothesized that nedocromil sodium works by inhibiting the sensory nerve activity in the dog’s lungs, thereby preventing coughing.
8 Adhatoda Vasica Extract
Adhatoda vasica is a type of plant that has a long history of use for treating various health problems in humans and animals, and particularly respiratory health issues. It works similarly to antitussives mentioned above.
Currently, there’s only a limited amount of studies on the effect of Adhatoda vasica extract on coughing or kennel cough in dogs. However, one study evaluated the cough suppressant activity of Adhatoda vasica extract and revealed it had good antitussive activity after oral administration to guinea pigs. It was effective in reducing coughing after exposure to irritant aerosols (30).
More research on Adhatoda vasica is needed to determine its protective effect, if any, on kennel cough in canines. But the few studies we have today may show some promise of us having yet another natural treatment for respiratory problems and kennel cough in dogs.
Opioids, also known as pain killers or pain relievers, are drugs that act on the dog’s nervous system to numb the opioid receptors and relieve pain. Some examples of opioids include morphine, codeine, and methadone. They are more powerful than regular dog pain relief aids, and can only be administered under vet’s supervision.
Administration of morphine and codeine in unanaesthetized guinea pigs exhibited antitussive, antinociceptive, and respiratory depressant effects (32), while methadone provides sedation effects to dogs, which can reduce the amount of pain (33). However, methadone can result in a higher prevalence of panting and higher respiratory rate.
Administration of codeine and morphine to the tracheal vascular bed inhibited the cough response and cough reflex (34). Of the opioids, codeine was found to possess greater anti-coughing activity than morphine (35).
Some studies do not support the use of oral opioids in dogs because of low oral bioavailability (36). Be aware that opioids may not be as effective as other forms of treatment for kennel cough in dogs, too. Side effects are also possible, and a science-based article on NextGenDog lists them as one of the last resorts to try.
Take Home Message
Kennel cough in dogs is a very serious health problem for pet owners to deal with, and it can have disastrous effects on your pet’s health and well-being. But it’s currently one of the most actively studied conditions in canines, and there is hope as well as effective treatments to deal with this infection.
Unlike with some other conditions such as parvo, as a dog owner you don’t have to watch idly by as your canine companion hacks and wheezes, suffering respiratory problems. As you can see above, there are various options of treatment that can be administered based on severity and preference ranging from antibiotics to antitussives, and from pharmaceutical grade corticosteroids to holistic herbal remedies like Echinacea.