Kennel Cough in Labradors

kennel cough symptoms, treatment and care

Kennel cough is a nasty condition that a lot of dogs suffer from at some point in their lives. If you have heard your Labrador coughing, then you will want to know what you are up against. In this article we are going to take a look at what Kennel Cough actually is. To help you to understand why dogs get kennel cough, how they catch it, what kennel cough symptoms to look at for. We will also take a look at what you can do to help treat kennel cough, and whether you can protect him against it in the future.

What Is Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a respiratory infection that will give your Labrador a noisy and persistent cough. It is sometimes known as infectious tracheobronchitis. It occurs when a virus or bacteria cause a dog to cough when his voice box or wind pipe become inflamed. A dog with kennel cough will probably feel a bit like you do when you have a dose of flu.

How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

Rather like flu, the name Kennel Cough applies to a set of symptoms rather than one specific virus. There are several viruses and some bacteria  that can cause it.  Namely canine parainfluenza virus and bordetella bronchiseptica.

What does kennel cough sound like - find out in this article with video

Kennel Cough is passed on through close  contact with infected dogs.  They breathe in a bacteria or virus particle which moves into their respiratory tract. Your Labrador  is more likely to be ill with Kennel Cough if he is also suffering from some other illness or if his immunity is depressed for some other reason.

Why Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

When your Labrador is ill his immune system will not deal as effectively with viruses or bacteria, and they are more likely to cause him additional health problems. There are also certain environmental factors which will increase the chances of your dog catching kennel cough. These include poor ventilation, cold, dust, smoke and stress.

Kennel cough was probably named for the scenario in which a dog is most likely to catch it, namely in kennels. Which have a high rate of exposure to other dogs, and can be quite stressful for dogs. It is hard for kennels to prevent, as a dog who is about to have symptoms of kennel cough can be infectious for several days before symptoms even appear.

What Does Kennel Cough Sound Like?

Kennel cough doesn’t always sound like a cough in the way that a human would instantly recognise. It can be more of a choking sound, or a muted bark. The best way to spot kennel cough is to familiarise yourself with the sound that it makes, which you can study in the video below.

Kennel Cough Video

In the video below you will find a short clip of a few dogs and puppies who are sadly suffering from kennel cough. It’s a bit of a tough watch as you feel very sorry for them, but remember it’s important to know the signs so that you can spot them in your own dog.

Kennel Cough Symptoms

Coughing is not normal for dogs.   And there are other conditions that can cause coughing. If your  dog has a cough,  he needs to see a vet. But talk to the vet in advance as he may want to avoid your bringing your dog in to a waiting room full of other dogs. Your vet may be able to let you in via a side door, or to give you the first appointment of the day in order to avoid cross infection.

The video recording above gives you some idea of what kennel cough can sound like, but bear in mind that every dog is different. Potential symptoms of kennel cough can include

  • A persistent, strained cough
  • Retching
  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Nasal discarge
  • Low appetite
  • Lethargy

Do contact your vet straight away if your lab is coughing.   Especially if there is blood in his sputum.  In severe cases kennel cough can lead to pneumonia. And please get a second opinion if you are not satisfied that the diagnosis of Kennel Cough is accurate. I lost a one year old Labrador with a ruptured pulmonary aneurysm  after a vet misdiagnosed his blood flecked cough as Kennel Cough and sent me home with some Benylin…

How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?

Signs of kennel cough develop approximately three days after your Labrador is exposed to it.

Most dogs are only mildly affected and recover in a week or so,  but occasionally the disease can be quite  severe and last for up to six weeks. Take your dog back to the vet again if the cough is getting worse instead of better,  if he coughs up blood (even small quantities) and if he becomes depressed or loses his appetite. Do not take your dog anywhere there are other dogs whilst he is contagious.

How Long Is Kennel Cough Contagious?

Kennel cough is contagious for several days before symptoms appear, and until they have entirely cleared up. Once your dog has stopped coughing, wait a couple of days before taking him out just to be on the safe side. He should stop being infectious once the cough has gone.

Can Humans Get Kennel Cough?

Humans cannot usually catch kennel cough from their dogs. However, if you have an immune compromised family member it is a good idea to keep them apart, as there is a very low risk in these extreme cases. Contact your veterinarian and medical professional if this applies to your family, for further advice.

Kennel Cough Treatment

Dogs with kennel cough usually recover on their own, without any treatment. However, if your dog has bacterial kennel cough then a veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to help speed up his recovery. Cough medicines for dogs do exist, but do not be tempted to buy them over the counter. Get advice from your veterinarian and only give your dog a medication they have prescribed or approved.

You should always contact your vet when your dog has a cough, as it can be a sign of something very serious. However, he may upon inspecting your dog tell you it’s fine to go home without treatment. This will usually be the case if the dog coughing only has mild bouts, and is eating well and behaving normally.

Kennel Cough Vaccine

Also like flu,  it is possible to vaccinate dogs against Kennel Cough. Although many dogs have some level of immunity through previous contact with sick dogs, some will be more vulnerable to it than others. If your dog is in his prime and brimming with health you may feel it is not worthwhile, but it is worth have a chat with a veterinarian before you make your decision.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

The kennel cough vaccines currently available include an injection, a nasal spray and an oral tablet. The frequency with which your vet will offer you the vaccine will depend upon your Labrador’s risk level for kennel cough and any potential complications. Talk to your vet about vaccination, and he will help you to decide whether it’s the right choice for your Labrador.

More help and information

Check out our Labrador health pages for more information about keeping your labrador fit and healthy You may also find the following articles on health complaints in Labradors useful:

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. Just a heads up…..sometimes the live spray vaccine can actually cause kennel cough as was the case with our lab. From then on we got her the shot.

  2. If your puppy doesn’t ever stay in kennels but goes to doggy parties, mixes with other dogs regularly, are you saying they need the vaccine? I thought it was just those that stayed in kennels, but your article appears to suggest it can be caught from mixing with infected dogs?

  3. Excellent article as ever Pippa I would also add that because Kennel Cough is extremely infectious your dog should not be exercised where other dogs walk. My two caught it a couple of months ago and discovered that advice on how long to quarantine varied enormously – the advice from my vet changed midway through so do phone them to double check if you’re not sure. The advice for me ended up being confined for 8 days after symptoms had subsided. Not easy – having two young energetic labs not exercised for over two weeks as it turned out. Luckily my garden is big enough for them to run around and expend some physical energy. I’m convinced they caught it because someone else was too selfish to impose a quarantine for long enough.

    Like colds/flu there are many viruses that cause kennel cough and the vaccine doesn’t protect against all of them, in fact it only covers a few. So I stand by my decision not to have vaccinated them.

    Also worth knowing that it’s viral so anti-biotics don’t work and should only be given if your dog has suspected secondary infections. Having phoned my vet I didn’t actually take them along until a week later when Barney didn’t seem to be improving. He was given anti-biotics but Rusty was fine. I mention this as a friend who’s dog had this was given anti-biotics immediately and told they were for the KC but they made no difference. Had he known KC is viral he would have asked a few more questions about the reason for the prescription.

    I made sure I hot washed all the bedding and disinfected regularly to help prevent re-infection. I’d also been giving them lemon and manuka honey which eased the cough significantly.

    • Hi Carole, thanks for that information.

      There is also a bacterial version of kennel cough (Bordetella) which can be treated with antibiotics. Its a relation I think of whooping cough.
      I believe that most vaccines cover this, as well as the more common viruses (parainfluenza and adenovirus) that cause it.

      Glad your dogs mad a good recovery. The lemon and honey sounds lovely!