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Can dogs get kennel cough without being around other dogs?

Kennel cough is one of the most common dog diseases. It’s essentially the doggie version of the cold or flu. Most pooches get mild symptoms, but it is possible to get a more severe infection. 

Many owners think that their dog must be at a kennel, or at least around a group of other dogs, to get kennel cough. The truth is that it’s possible for your dog to get kennel cough, even if they aren’t around other dogs. 

Can dogs get kennel cough without being around other dogs?

Your dog begins coughing. You are worried. Could they have kennel cough? They haven’t been around any other dogs, you console yourself. This means they can’t have kennel cough, right?

Put simply, it’s not common for a dog to get kennel cough without being around other dogs, but it is possible. 

What is Kennel Cough? 

There are two causes of kennel cough. These are the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus. These diseases attack the upper respiratory tract. 

This leads to inflammation in their airway, and a dry cough. It also puts them at risk of a secondary infection. Your pooch’s airway contains tiny hairs known as cillia.

Cilia helps keep the respiratory tract free of bacteria and viruses, essentially sweeping them away before they can become problematic. 

When they are attacked, it leaves the airway open to infection. The inflammation and irritation caused by the illness also makes a secondary infection more likely. 

Aersolsol Spread

The most common way kennel cough spreads is aerosol transmission, similar to the common cold and flu in humans. When the dog coughs, droplets with the disease are released into the air. These droplets are inhaled by other dogs, who then get the disease as well.

When dogs are close together, as they are in a kennel, the disease can spread quickly.Think of a child with a cold in a classroom. They sneeze and cough, spreading the virus. Soon, many kids in the class have the virus. 

Of course, kennel cough isn’t limited to kennels. Anywhere your dog is exposed to other dogs is a place they can catch kennel cough.  

Contaminated Surfaces

Contaminated surfaces can also spread kennel cough. Let’s go back to the child with a cold. They have a play date with a friend. The two share a toy. Soon, both kids are sick. This is because the cold germs spread to the surface of the toy. The other child then got the germs from the toy onto their hands. Their hands inevitably went to their face, and then got inside their body. 

Secondary Exposure

The issue with contaminated surfaces is it doesn’t have to involve direct exposure. Let’s say that the toy is at the park. The child with the cold picks it up, placing the virus on it. Then, the child walks away. 

A few minutes later, the other child picks up the toy. They then get the virus as well. They were exposed through the surface, without being exposed to the person carrying the virus. 

This same cycle can occur with dogs. They tend to put everything in their mouths, which makes transmission even more likely. Toys, surfaces, and even food and water bowls that are exposed to a dog with kennel cough can then pass it on to another dog. 

Human Exposure

It’s possible for humans to catch kennel cough from dogs, but it’s very rare. Only humans with weakened immune systems are susceptible to the bacteria. However, humans can easily spread the disease on to their dogs. 

If you are exposed to a dog with kennel cough, you can then pass it on to your pooch. The virus can get onto your hands. You come home to your dog, and they lick you excitedly in greeting. 

They will then develop kennel cough, even though they weren’t exposed to a sick dog, or even a place where a sick dog had been. 

How long does it take for kennel cough to appear?

Dogs typically develop symptoms 3 to 10 days after exposure to the disease. However, symptoms can occur from 2-14 days after initial exposure. 

The time after exposure and before your dog gets sick is the incubation period. During this time, the virus begins to replicate in your dog’s body. It will eventually replicate enough to begin causing symptoms. 

What are signs of kennel cough in a dog?

Kennel cough can cause a range of symptoms, from a dry cough to a runny nose. Some of these symptoms can also be caused by other health conditions or diseases, so it’s important not to assume your pooch has kennel cough without a diagnosis from the veterinarian. 

At the same time, if you suspect your dog has kennel cough, you should quarantine them to prevent the disease from spreading to other dogs. 

The Symptoms of Kennel Cough 

The hallmark symptom of kennel cough, is, of course, a cough. The cough is often described as honking or hacking. It can sound as if your dog has something caught in their throat, or they are attempting to throw up. 

Nasal symptoms, including a runny nose and sneezing, are also common. Some dogs develop a fever, but it should be mild. A high fever is a sign of a more serious disease or a complication of kennel cough. 

Some dogs get lethargic and lose their appetite when they have kennel cough. These symptoms should be mild as well. If your pooch is not acting like themselves because they are very fatigued, you’ll need to get them to the vet quickly. 

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is sometimes mistaken for kennel cough in the early stages of the disease, because the symptoms are similar. 

Canine distemper can make your pooch very ill. It typically starts with a discharge from their eyes. They will then develop a cough, runny nose, lethargy, and fever, similar to kennel cough. 

They may also experience vomiting as the virus attacks the gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately, it will progress to targeting the nervous system. This can cause twitches, head tilt, seizures, and even paralysis. 

Distemper is often fatal, and dogs that survive can have permanent damage to the nervous system.

Complications From Kennel Cough 

The most common complication from kennel cough is pneumonia. Just like humans, a respiratory infection provides an ideal environment for pneumonia. 

Pneumonia causes severe inflammation and fluid build up in the respiratory tract and lungs. They will have a hard time breathing, because their lungs aren’t functioning properly. 

If pneumonia isn’t treated, it can lead to fatal complications. A lack of oxygen can cause hypoxia. If severe enough, this can lead to brain damage or death.

Sepsis is another concern. Sepsis occurs when an infection overwhelms the immune system and gets into the blood stream. 

What to do if my dog seems to have kennel cough?

If your dog has the symptoms of kennel cough, you’ll need to take some steps to get them well again. Most cases resolve on their own, without medical intervention. However, this doesn’t mean that you can skip the vet visit!

Vet Appointment 

If you notice the symptoms of kennel cough, you should make an appointment with your vet. In many cases, the only prescription is plenty of rest and time to recover from the disease. 

However, some cases do require antibiotics or other treatments due to secondary infections. The vet may also prescribe cough medicine, to ease your dog’s cough. 

The second reason you need to visit the vet is to rule out other diseases. Canine distemper can mimic kennel cough, and other physical conditions can cause similar symptoms. These conditions require prompt treatment. 


To ensure that your pooch doesn’t spread kennel cough to other dogs, you’ll need to  quarantine them. Keep them away from other dogs for two weeks after they develop kennel cough. 

You should also keep them away from places other dogs visit, other than your vet’s office, of course. 

If you have other dogs in the home, you may not be able to prevent the disease from spreading throughout your household. Your vet may recommend antibiotics to shorten the duration, or to monitor all the dogs for complications. 

Keep Them Comfortable

There are a few things you can do to keep your dog comfortable and minimize the risk fo kennel cough getting worse. Keep them indoors, and avoid exposure to very wet or cold conditions. 

If they are house trained, going to potty outside is ok, but they shouldn’t be out for long periods.

Your pooch will need good quality air as they recover. They should also avoid breathing cigarette smoke. Of course, smoke is never good for dogs, but it’s particularly important to avoid when they have kennel cough. 

You should also minimize exposure to dust, and be sure the area is well ventilated. An air purifier can be helpful, but it isn’t required. 

When to Worry

Most dogs recover from kennel cough in a few weeks, with little to no treatment. However, there are some signs that your pooch is developing a secondary infection. 

If your dog has wheezing or difficulty breathing, they may be developing pneumonia. Exercise intolerance is another sign of complications. If they begin breathing heavily after a small amount of exercise, they may have low oxygen levels. 

You should also be concerned if they have a high fever or a loss of thirst or appetite. 

It’s normal for your pooch to feel a little under the weather. However, if they aren’t eating or drinking, or only consuming very small amounts, this indicates a serious problem. This is also true for lethargy. 

A little tiredness is normal, but if your dog is very tired or uninterested in normal activities, contact your vet.