Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (a.k.a. Kennel Cough)

Canine infectious respiratory disease (also known as kennel cough) is an infection of a dog’s windpipe and large airways of the lungs. The infection can be caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria and is comparable to a chest cold in a person, ranging from minor to severe. A dog with a respiratory disease will often improve on its own in one to three weeks. 

Respiratory infections are highly contagious. They can travel through the air or direct contact. Humans can even carry the disease from one dog to another. This is why animal shelters, boarding facilities, and doggy day cares are all highly watchful for this disease. It's important to wash your hands after touching any dog to prevent the potential spread of illness!

Runny nose, watery eyes, and a classic “hacking cough” are the hallmarks of infectious respiratory disease. The cough can sometimes be confused with vomiting. It has been described as “something stuck in my dog’s throat” or “like a cat trying to hack up a hairball.” 

More information about canine respiratory infections

  • Respiratory disease has an incubation period of 2-10 days. This means that even a healthy looking dog can start showing signs of respiratory disease within a week. 
  • Respiratory infections could spread to other dogs in your home. To reduce the risk of disease transmission, we recommend separating new pets from your existing pets for the first few days. New adopters, please note we cannot assume liability for the health of your other pets. Any treatment they may need would be at the adopter’s expense. 
  • Infectious respiratory disease can sometimes be severe enough to warrant medications. Infectious respiratory disease can advance into pneumonia. 
  • If you adopted a dog from AHS that is being treated for a respiratory infection, we'll provide you with enough medication to complete the current prescription. If additional medication is required or if a veterinarian recommends further diagnostic tests (X-rays, blood work, cultures, etc.), you will be financially responsible for this medical care.
  • Rarely, an immune-compromised person (with AIDS or undergoing cancer chemotherapy) could become infected with Bordetella Bronchiseptica, one of the bacteria involved in respiratory infections. If you or someone in your family is severely immune-compromised, please discuss infectious respiratory disease with your physician before adopting a dog.

If you suspect your dog has infectious respiratory disease, notify your veterinarian when:

  • Your dog’s cough worsens or doesn’t improve within one to two weeks.
  • Your dog becomes depressed or stops eating.
  • Your dog develops nasal discharge.

What should I do if my new pet starts showing these signs?

Please see your veterinarian for further medical care. Medications and further care are not always needed, but that distinction should be made by a veterinarian.

Make sure you see them ASAP if any of the severe signs above are seen. Please be aware that any costs incurred with an outside veterinarian would be your financial responsibility.

How can Animal Humane Society help?

AHS can fill medications at no cost with a prescription from your veterinarian; however, we cannot reimburse for medications an adopter already chooses to fill at their vet.

The animal must be seen by a vet within 14 days of adoption, and we can fill up to 1 month of medications that we keep in stock. Please contact us early in the process so that we can help as best we can.