Ultimate Dog

By Sara Seitz - Reading Time: 12 minutes
kennel cough in dogs

Natural Kennel Cough Treatment for Dogs

So your dog has started hacking and coughing, and you're wondering what to do. First things first, don't panic. Kennel cough is one of the most common contagious illnesses in dogs. And more importantly, it rarely causes long-term issues.

Still, no one wants to see their best friend feeling unwell. Luckily, there are many natural remedies you can use to help your dog feel better and get over kennel cough faster.

We’ll look at these below as well as discuss what kennel cough is, what the symptoms look like, and what you can do in the future to help prevent repeat infections.

What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough, also known as canine cough, canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD), and canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is very similar to the common cold in humans. The term kennel cough refers to a set of symptoms rather than a disease caused by a specific pathogen.

While a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common cause of canine cough, it is far from the only culprit. Mycoplasma, another type of bacteria, can also cause this illness. As can many different viruses, including adenovirus-2, canine coronavirus, canine parainfluenza, canine herpesvirus, and even canine distemper.

In most cases, kennel cough symptoms develop due to simultaneous infections of any of the above pathogens. The first bacteria or virus weakens the immune system, and the second uses this to establish itself and wreak havoc on the respiratory tract.

Kennel cough is most common in places where dogs are housed in high numbers. This includes boarding kennels, daycares, groomers, and shelters. Not only are these places crowded, but they tend to be warm and moist, the perfect conditions for harboring pathogens. And, more importantly, the dogs in these places tend to be stressed, which weakens their immune system.

How Long Does Kennel Cough Last in Dogs?

It can take anywhere from 2 to 14 days for your dog to show symptoms after being exposed to kennel cough. During this asymptomatic time, they are capable of shedding the virus or bacteria and infecting other dogs.

Once symptoms set in, most dogs recover in one to three weeks. On rare occasions, dogs can experience severe secondary infections, such as pneumonia. This is most common in very young dogs, very old dogs, and those with compromised immune systems.

Kennel Cough Symptoms

Kennel cough symptoms can be mild to severe, depending on the case. The most common symptoms include:

  • Hacking cough
  • Coughing up white foam
  • Running nose and eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Fever, only in severe cases

The signature symptom of canine cough is a hacking cough. It sounds as if your dog has something caught in their throat they are trying to dislodge. In fact, many owners confuse this symptom for their dog having swallowed something they shouldn't.

One of the clearest indicators you’re dealing with kennel cough and not something else is the white foamy discharge your dog will occasionally hack up. This mucusy foam is a clear sign that you're dealing with a respiratory infection.

Kennel Cough vs. Canine Influenza

While kennel cough is caused by multiple different viruses and bacteria, the very similar canine influenza is caused only by type A influenza viruses. This pathogen also attacks the respiratory system of dogs and tends to last between two and three weeks in most cases.

Both canine cough and canine influenza have many of the same symptoms, including cough, lethargy, eye and nose discharge, and lack of appetite. While influenza can cause a dry hacking cough, it is more common for dogs to get a wet cough. This infection is also more likely to cause fever and opaque nasal discharge.

While canine influenza is different from canine cough, it and most other respiratory infections will benefit from the same natural remedies as kennel cough.

Home Remedies for Kennel Cough

Most dogs get over kennel cough infections without any intervention. But while they are sick, they can feel fairly miserable, especially if they have a bad cough that keeps them (and you) up all night.

Luckily, there are a number of natural remedies for dog cough that you can offer your pup right at home. Some of these will help relieve symptoms, while others do wonders to help shorten the duration of the infection.

Honey 

Honey is an age-old remedy for coughs in humans and animals alike. This miracle of the natural world is antibacterial, antiviral, and filled with antioxidants that help the body heal.

It is also a wonderful antidote for coughing. This thick liquid coats the throat to help soothe inflammation and itching.

One of the best types of honey you can use for medicinal purposes is manuka honey. This honey comes from bees who feed exclusively on the manuka tree in New Zealand and Australia. The chemical properties of the tree give the honey extra pathogen-fighting power.

Give your dog ½ tsp to 1 tbsp of manuka honey, depending on their size, one to three times daily to help with coughing. You can let them lick it off a spoon or mix it with warm water.

Garlic

Garlic has the superpower ability to support immune health in both people and pets. It contains many nutrients known to boost the immune system and support gut health, including vitamin A, multiple B vitamins, sulfur, and zinc. It also has powerful antibiotic properties.

What makes garlic such a powerful natural treatment for kennel cough is an amino acid called allicin. This compound has proven antibacterial and antiviral properties. While some caution against giving it to dogs, it is actually safe when given in the correct amount.

Feed ill dogs ⅓ tsp of chopped garlic per 10 pounds of body weight each day until symptoms subside. For best results, allow the chopped garlic to sit for 15 minutes before feeding. This helps release more allicin. 

Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Adaptogenic mushrooms, also known as medicinal mushrooms, contain a host of compounds known to support different bodily systems. Many also contain antibiotic properties, as well as beta-glucans, which are especially helpful for fighting respiratory infections.

Shiitake, cordyceps, maitake, and chaga are all great adaptogenic mushrooms for targeting kennel cough.

Mushroom supplements are becoming more popular for pets but are still a little tough to find. You can use human-grade mushroom supplements as long as they contain no added ingredients. The average large dog should take half the recommended human dose, while smaller dogs will need smaller doses.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has well-documented antiviral and antibacterial properties. The use of coconut oil and monolaurin, a product of lauric acid, has even shown the potential to aid in the treatment of COVID-19.

In addition to helping fight respiratory infections, this superfood is wonderful for skin and coat health and joint health.

Give ¼ teaspoon to small dogs or 1 tablespoon to large dogs per day. Slowly increase the amount up to three times the given dose over the course of a week if needed.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is another powerful natural food with antibiotic properties. This spice also has anti-inflammatory effects and has been proven useful for clearing the lungs and airways. This is another natural remedy that has been studied extensively for use in fighting COVID-19[1] [2] .

You can use cinnamon to help your dog get over kennel cough by sprinkling ¼ to 1 tsp of the spice on your dog's food, depending on their size, once per day until symptoms ease. 

NOTE: Most commercial cinnamon sold in stores is cassia cinnamon, which can be toxic in high doses. True cinnamon comes from the Cinnamon verum tree and is sold as “Ceylon” cinnamon. When using cinnamon as a supplement for you or your pet, be sure to only use Ceylon cinnamon. 

Tea 

Just as many humans turn to herbal tea when they’re feeling under the weather, so can your furry friend. 

Echinacea, rose hips, ginger, and chamomile are all great options for supporting respiratory health. These teas contain vitamin C and other nutrients that help the body naturally fight off infections. Ginger, especially, is a wonderful anti-inflammatory that helps the throat and lungs heal.

Boil loose-leaf tea in one cup of water and give small dogs 2 tsp and large dogs up to 4 tbsp on their food at each meal. 

Steam Therapy

One quick way to provide your dog some much-needed relief from coughing is to do steam therapy. Moist hot air helps soothe and open airways, which reduces coughing and makes coughs more productive.

The easiest way to do this is to bring your dog into the bathroom with you when you shower. Close the door and don’t use the fan. Let the steam from the shower stand in the room for ten to fifteen minutes after you're done to give your pup extra time to enjoy some relief. 

Humidifier

Just as humidifiers can help reduce the symptoms of the common cold, they can also help your dog find relief from kennel cough. 

Use a humidifier at night in the room where your dog sleeps. Be sure to clean the tank and humidifier parts frequently to avoid mold growth, which can make respiratory symptoms worse.

Natural Kennel Cough Prevention

Kennel cough is one of those diseases that some dogs are more likely to get than others. It is also one that is much more likely to occur in certain situations.

While there is a vaccine for kennel cough, it is not 100% effective. Much like the flu vaccine, this one changes yearly in anticipation of the variant of Bordetella that is expected to be most active. It does not protect fully against other strains and doesn’t protect at all against the other bacterial and viral causes of canine cough.

In addition to not being very effective, the kennel cough vaccine also comes with many side effects, including lethargy, loss of appetite, and inflammation. The nasal form of the vaccine even has the potential to cause many of the same symptoms as kennel cough, including coughing, sneezing, and runny eyes. These symptoms can last as long as the disease itself.

This leaves the brunt of preventing kennel cough infections on you. Luckily, there are three simple things you can do to help boost your dog’s immune system to give them a better chance of fighting off the infection if they encounter it.

Taking these steps is especially important if your dog spends time at daycare, the dog park, or boarding facilities. 

These tips also help to protect your dog from other respiratory diseases, including the mystery canine respiratory illness currently circulating in the country.

Probiotics

We’ve talked at length about the benefits of probiotics for dogs. One of the most important things these little organisms do is help balance and strengthen the immune system.

Seventy percent of the immune system resides in the gut in the form of beneficial bacteria, chemical signals, and the body’s own cells. If your dog’s gut is out of balance, then their immune system will suffer.

Unfortunately, many of the things that put your dog at risk of kennel cough, such as boarding or dog daycare, also have a negative effect on the gut due to increased stress and exposure to cleaning chemicals.

Supplementing with probiotics can help keep your dog’s biome strong during these stressful times. But be sure the probiotic you are using is actually capable of doing what you want it to. Most commercial probiotics have poor absorption and survival rates. 

That’s why we recommend soil-based probiotics like S. Boulardii and B. Coagulans. These specialized microbes have a high survivability rate and have been proven to help strengthen the immune system in dogs and humans.

Immune Supporting Supplements

Probiotics aren’t the only way to strengthen your dog's immune system. Many supplements, including some effective at relieving kennel cough symptoms, can also help prevent the infection in the first place. 

Garlic and adaptogenic mushrooms are both wonderful daily additions to your dog's supplement routine. 

I personally discovered the power of adaptogenic mushrooms during my own search for chronic respiratory infection relief. Since starting a multi-mushroom supplement over a year ago, I have been nearly cold-free, a huge change from being sick just about every month.

Now, when my dogs are at risk of catching an infection, I always load them up with medicinal mushrooms beforehand to help protect them.

One easy way to get the benefits of adaptogenic mushrooms and probiotics in one supplement is to use Chirp Superfood Topper. This powerful supplement contains S. BoulardiiBacillus Coagulans, and full-spectrum Reishi mushroom powder. Additionally, it is packed with easy-to-digest cricket protein and powerful enzymes.

A Quality Diet 

Of course, no supplement in the world is going to erase the need for a quality, biologically appropriate diet.

Unfortunately, most commercial dog foods do not fall into this category. Dogs require a high level of quality animal protein and fat in order to thrive. To keep your pup's immune system strong, they need a wide variety of amino acids, enzymes, and nutrients in their bowl every meal.

Fresh food, such as a raw diet, is the best way to deliver this. But if raw isn’t an option for you, consider feeding freeze-dried raw or dehydrated fresh food. Both of these are better options than commercial kibble and canned food.

When dogs eat too much starch and plant-based protein, their systems suffer. One of the first to get thrown out of balance is the gut biome. The next to go is their immune system.

If your dog suffers frequent respiratory infections like kennel cough, their diet is the first thing you should take a hard look at.

Support Your Dog’s Respiratory System Before and During Kennel Cough 

The best way to treat kennel cough in dogs is to prevent it in the first place. This can be done by feeding a quality, species-appropriate diet and supplementing with probiotics and adaptogenic mushrooms.

If your dog does fall ill, there are some easy home remedies you can use to help them feel better. Our comprehensive list above includes some great options for boosting your dog’s immune system and helping them find relief from that troublesome cough.

Sources

Ankri, S., & Mirelman, D. (1999). Antimicrobial properties of allicin from garlic. Microbes and Infection, 1(2), 125–129.

Booi, H.N., Lee, M.K., Ting, K.N., Fung, S.Y. (2023). Medicinal Mushrooms for Respiratory Health. In: Agrawal, D.C., Dhanasekaran, M. (eds) Mushrooms with Therapeutic Potentials. Springer, Singapore. 

Canine influenza. (n.d.). American Veterinary Medical Association

El‐Senduny, F. F., Hegazi, N. M., El‐Ghani, G. E. A., & Farag, M. A. (2021). Manuka honey, a unique mono-floral honey. A comprehensive review of its bioactives, metabolism, action mechanisms, and therapeutic merits. Food Bioscience, 42, 101038.

Yakhchali, M., Taghipour, Z., Ardakani, M. M., Vaghasloo, M. A., Vazirian, M., & Sadrai, S. (2021). Cinnamon and its possible impact on COVID-19: The viewpoint of traditional and conventional medicine. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 143, 112221.


Sara Seitz

Sara Seitz worked in the pet industry for over a decade. In addition to being a certified dog trainer, Sara gained experience working as the general manager of a dog daycare and boarding facility, as the creator and manager of a pet sitting company, as a groomer, and as a dog behavior evaluator. She also has a bachelors in animal behavior from CSU. Currently, Sara works as a freelance writer specializing in blog, article and content writing.

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