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Kennel Cough and Parvo - What are they and what do we do about them?

Posted by Noah D. on

No matter how hard we try to protect our dogs from illness, it, like life, happens. There are some sicknesses that are fairly treatable, and others that will have you in and out of a veterinarian’s office with a fair amount of frequency. Let’s talk about a few of the health issues that affect a high number of dogs, and are on different ends of the spectrum: kennel cough and parvo.

What Is Kennel Cough and What Is Parvo?

Also known as Bordetella, kennel cough mostly hits dogs that are kept in confined quarters, like a kennel or animal shelter. It is caused by bacteria and viruses and is highly uncomfortable.   Akin to a cold, if your dog contracts kennel cough s/he’ll have a dry, hacking cough with shortness of breath. Typical of upper respiratory infections. It’s important to address kennel cough at the first sign, as your dog could develop pneumonia if left untreated (typically with anti-inflammatories and antibiotics). While your dog can get vaccinated against kennel cough, it’s not 100%.

Canine parvovirus (parvo) is a highly contagious virus that affects the gastrointestinal tract of a dog. A dog with parvo will vomit, be lethargic, and have loose gray stools. If you see these symptoms in your dog, see a vet immediately. Parvo has a mortality rate of 91% when left untreated (source). The parvo vaccination, along with impeccable hygiene, is an excellent defense against the disease.

Both infections are highly contagious and resistant. They can remain in the environment for a long time after an infected dog has been treated. This is why the virus is capable of recurring in unvaccinated dogs. Other bacteria and viruses, can cause kennel cough, which means that even vaccinated dogs can get kennel cough from another source.

Causes of Kennel Cough and Parvo

Parvovirus is highly contagious and is spread by direct or indirect contact with an infected dog’s feces or environment where the infected dog has been. For kennel cough, the common causative agent includes Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine coronavirus, and parainfluenza virus. A dog can contract kennel cough when they inhale respiratory droplets with the causative agent. After the inhalation, there is usually an incubation period of 3 to 5 days before symptoms manifest.

Signs and Symptoms of Kennel Cough and Parvo

Some of the significant signs and symptoms of kennel cough and parvo include the following:

Kennel Cough

Honking sound cough

Runny nose & sneezing


Low-grade fever


Bloody diarrhea

Vomiting, anorexia & weight loss


Lethargy & weakness

Diagnosis of Kennel Cough and Parvo

A veterinarian will diagnose kennel cough typically by conducting bacterial cultures and blood tests. In addition, depending upon the severity and signs exhibited by a dog, the vet may take chest x-rays. If the clinical indicators are bad, the vet may also take images of a dog’s lungs and trachea.

Parvo, on the other hand is diagnosed through symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration), as well as with diagnostic tests. These tests include the fecal swab, a DNA amplification (polymerase chain reaction), and complete blood count (CBC). Each provides different information. Sometimes a vet will combine the tests to ensure a proper diagnosis.

Treatment Options for Kennel Cough and Parvo

Since both kennel cough and parvo are highly contagious, isolation is required for a dog diagnosed with either illness. Depending upon the intensity of kennel cough, a dog may be restricted to rest with moist air from a humidifier. However, most of the time vets recommend antibiotics (Doxycycline and Clavamox) to help your expedite recovery. It’s worth mentioning that kennel cough can be caused by either a virus or bacteria. This is important in that it may require a compounded treatment approach.

There is no drug available that will kill the parvovirus. So, treatment is designed to enhance a dog’s immune system such that s/he can fight off the viral infection. Time is vitally important for a dog with parvo. Aggressive treatment should start immediately, and it typically consists of a veterinary stay with fluid therapy, anti-nausea medications, and antibiotics. Treatment may take some time before seeing improvement. When treated properly, a dog’s survival rate can be about 90%.

Precautions to Take After Treatment

Here are a few precautions to take to ensure after your dog recovers from this infection:

  • Isolate your dog: You may need to isolate your dog from other pets for at least two months to avoid the spread of the infection.
  • Replace all dog objects: To be safe, it’s best to replace all of your dog’s things such as dog crate, bed, toys, and bowls. Also, wash all replacement items every week in hot, soapy water.
  • Vaccinate your dogs regularly: Perhaps the best precautions to take in order to prevent an infection in your dog is proper vaccination. For young puppies, vaccination should be done at six weeks, and ten weeks. All adult dogs also require a series of boosters every one to three years.
  • Pick up dog feces: Pick all dog feces and ensure the environment is kept neat at all times. This will help to reduce the spread of disease, including intestinal parasites. as well as environmental contamination.
  • Balanced, nutritious diet: It’s important to continue to help enhance your dog’s immune system so it’s not susceptible to a relapse. Providing a high-quality, balanced diet during and post-recovery is very important.
  • Sanitize the air: Ensure that you provide a proper air purification system for your dog. This helps destroy airborne bacteria and viruses.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

While a timely response is important when treating any type of illness that affects your dog, it’s best to have a good proactive plan in place. This is particularly true for parvo. Vaccinations have helped keep dogs in good health against parvo for quite some time. If you or someone you know has had to care for a dog with parvo, then you’ll understand the need to be proactive. Depending upon where your dog spends his or her days, the kennel cough vaccine may also work wonders. If your dog goes to daycare or dog parks, it’s best to talk over the frequency of the vaccinations with your pooch’s vet.


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