Kennel Cough: A Natural Guide

Kennel cough is a broad term covering any infectious or contagious condition of dogs where coughing is one of the main symptoms. It’s sadly a common occurrence in the dog population, so let’s take a look at what it actually is and our top tips for prevention and management.

Did you know several viruses and bacteria can cause kennel cough, and often at the same time?

They include (but are not limited to):

  • Adenovirus type-2 (distinct from the adenovirus type 1 that causes infectious hepatitis),
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Canine Adenovirus Type 2 Infection

CAV-2 infection is a common but transient contagious disease of the respiratory tract of dogs, it tends to cause mild fever, nasal discharge, coughing, and poor weight gain.

Viral entry is generally by inhalation of infected particles followed by viral replication in the cells of the upper respiratory tract, mucous cells of the trachea and bronchi, bronchiolar epithelial cells, and others.

Infection with CAV-2 is generally deemed mild unless complicated with a secondary bacterial infection or coinfections with other viruses like distemper virus.

Experimental work suggests CAV-2 reinfection may lead to hyperreactive airways, which is a nonspecific condition where the bronchial mucosa becomes highly responsive to irritation caused by cold air, gases, or cigarette smoke.

Canine parainfluenza virus (CPIV)

This virus is a highly contagious ribonucleic acid virus that causes respiratory disease in dogs.

Dogs with CPIV may exhibit no clinical signs or mild clinical signs of a dry, harsh cough for around and up to 7 days, with or without fever and nasal discharge.  These signs are generally more severe in those dogs with viral or bacterial coinfections.

CPIV suppresses the innate branch of the immune system, resulting in the loss of cilia and ciliated epithelium, making the host more favourable for coinfections.  This is why it is of concern for immunocompromised dogs, along with puppies, or the senior dog.

CPIV survives on nonporous surfaces for 4 to 12 days, but it is susceptible to a range of disinfectants.

Bordetella bronchiseptica

B bronchiseptica is a gram-negative, aerobic coccobacillus that is often implicated as a complicating factor in dogs with concurrent viral respiratory infections.

After B bronchiseptica colonises the airways, it can evade the immune system by expressing various virulence factors that lead to:
  • Direct cellular injury of respiratory epithelium
  • Impaired immune recognition
  • Disrupted immune clearance

It seemingly manages to paralyze the mucociliary apparatus—a key component of the respiratory tract’s local defence mechanisms.

The mucociliary apparatus moves inhaled debris and potentially harmful pathogens away from the lower respiratory tract, decreasing the risk of colonisation by these organisms.

By doing this, B bronchiseptica not only improves its own virulence and chance for colonisation, but also paves the way for infections of the lower respiratory tract.

In cases of infection, some dogs suffer mild disease including nasal discharge and intermittent coughing, whereas others develop severe pneumonia.

Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRD)

The coinfection of these pathogens, among others, manifests as CIRD and they act synergistically to causes respiratory illness.

This is why a multifaceted approach to prevention and subsequent management is crucial.

Immune Function

As you have likely noticed, CIRD is an attack on the immune system.  The pathogens hijack many defences which results in the lingering symptoms.

So, a well-functioning immune system is the first part of your dog’s defence against kennel cough.

Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system.  Vitamin C helps encourage the production of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which as you know if you read our guide to the immune system, they help protect the body against infection.

Your Pet’s Immune System

Vitamin A helps maintain structural and functional integrity of mucosal cells in innate barriers (skin, respiratory tract etc).  It is also important for the functioning of natural killer cells, macrophages, and neutrophils.  In the adaptive immune response, vitamin A is necessary for the functioning of T and B cells and therefore for the generation of antibody responses to an antigen.  Vitamin A also supports the Th2 anti-inflammatory response.

In the innate immune system, vitamin B6 helps regulate inflammation and has roles in cytokine production and natural killer cell activity.  In the adaptive immunity system, vitamin B6 plays a role in the metabolism of amino acids, which are the building blocks of cytokines and antibodies.  B6 is also involved in lymphocyte proliferation, differentiation and maturation and it maintains Th1 immune responses.

Stock or broth made by boiling chicken bones is a great option and contains gelatin, chondroitin and other nutrients that are helpful in gut healing in immune function.

Zinc is a particular powerhouse when it comes to immune function.  It has antioxidant effects protecting against reactive oxygen species, it helps modulate cytokine release and also helps maintain skin and mucosal membrane integrity (that first line of defence).  In the adaptive immune response, zinc has a central role in cellular growth and differentiation of immune cells.  It plays a role in T cell development and activation and supports the Th1 response.

We find vitamin D receptors throughout the immune system which demonstrates the role it plays in its function.  Vitamin D stimulates immune cell proliferation and cytokine production, and it helps protect against infection caused by pathogens.  It also demonstrates an inhibitory effect in adaptive immunity, suggesting that it is in fact an immune modulator.  This is often why we notice increased cases of autoimmunity where there is low vitamin D.

Further to this, we often note higher rates of infection (with a range of pathogens) when there are existing health issues that involve:

  • The gut
  • Thyroid
  • Kidneys
  • Liver function

7 Steps to Optimal Gut Health

Liver Health

Kidney Disease

Therefore, ensuring you take a holistic approach to your dog’s health is vital. But, we do have some tricks up our sleeves when it comes to dealing with kennel cough in dogs.


Mushrooms are thought to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-protective, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, and anticancer properties. It is well-established that mushrooms are adept at immune modulation and affect hematopoietic stem cells, lymphocytes, macrophages, T cells, dendritic cells (DCs), and natural killer (NK) cells.

The Magic Of Medicinal Mushrooms for Pets


In one study, the plant-based immune stimulant was administered to 41 dogs with manifestations of chronic and seasonal upper respiratory tract infections, including pharyngitis/tonsillitis, bronchitis and kennel cough.

Overall efficacy showed significant improvement for 92% of 39 dogs after 4 weeks of treatment and this was confirmed after 8 weeks.

Significant reductions of severity and resolution of typical clinical symptoms, of clear nasal secretions, enlargement of lymph nodes, dry cough, dyspnea and dry lung sounds, were evident after 4 weeks.

Findings Here


Novel data show that ginger and its isolated active components, [6]-gingerol, [8]-gingerol, and [6]-shogaol, relax ASM, and [8]-gingerol attenuates airway hyperresponsiveness.

Findings Here

But the bottom line, ginger is well known for functioning as an antiviral, anti-inflammatory and possessing antibacterial properties.


Traditionally, chamomile has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, mild astringent and healing compound.

Chamomile is widely used to treat inflammations of the skin and mucous membranes, and for various bacterial infections of the skin, oral cavity and gums, and respiratory tract.

The same applies to our dogs.  Tincture or tea is generally better tolerated by dogs.

And of course, the trusted favourite, manuka honey possesses soothing properties along with functioning as an:

  • Antiviral
  • Antibacterial

There is increasing evidence that it inhibits a range of pathogens.

Findings Here

It also disperses and kills bacteria living in biofilms, those matrixes that adhere to wounds, teeth, and mucosal surfaces.

If your dog is sadly suffering with kennel cough there are a range of compounds that can support recovery, but as with everything, prevention is better than cure, so take a look at our linked articles around supporting immune function in the dog.

If you would like any help with your dog’s health, please check out our services.


Thanks for reading,


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