Pug Kennel Cough: How To Treat A Honking & Hacking Cough

It’s devastating to see a pug in distress. Excessive coughing, gagging, and dry heaving are some typical signs that something is terribly wrong. Like colds in humans, viruses can be transmissible between dogs. One of the most common cough-related diseases is kennel cough.

Kennel cough is a highly infectious respiratory disease that manifests in the form of a honking cough, making it sound like the dog is choking. Pugs can be more susceptible due to having elongated soft palates. Treatment isn’t always necessary, but antibiotics can be prescribed in severe cases.

While the coughing may sound terrible, it’s usually not too severe of a condition. However, if not properly cared for, there is a risk that it can lead to pneumonia, and this can be potentially fatal. Acting quickly when symptoms are present will help ensure your pug a swift and speedy recovery.

What Is Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a common name for infectious bronchitis in dogs. Like chest infections in people, multiple strains of viruses and bacteria is the usual cause of this illness, especially when the combination of both are present. They affect the upper respiratory system, which makes your pet cough as a response.

All dogs can contract kennel cough, but specific breeds are more vulnerable to it than others. For example, flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds such as pugs and bulldogs are more prone due to having longer soft palates. This means there is more soft tissue towards the back of the roof of the mouth, which makes it harder for them to expel phlegm. It also partially blocks their breathing passage.

The main reason this coughing illness is known as “kennel cough” is due to the number of dogs that are confined in an enclosed and infectious space. Populated environments like boarding kennels and shelters are places where this disease is likely to spread.

Causes Of Kennel Cough

There are several causes of kennel cough, but the most common one is due to a bacterium known as Bordetella bronchiseptica. This is the reason why this condition is often referred to as Bordetella. Additionally, canine Adenoviruses Type 1 and 2 might accompany Bordetella. Since the virus is contagious and airborne, it is transmitted between dogs the same way humans catch the common cold.

The causative organisms are microscopically transferred in the air via dust and water vapor particles. When a pug comes into contact with this, the bacteria will attach itself to the trachea lining and upper airway passage of the dog. The organisms will then look for a warm and moist surface where they can reside, spread, and finally damage all the cells they infect.

Also, the bacteria can be easily transmitted via food bowls, toys, and any shared items that have been exposed to the disease. Despite the pugs’ respiratory system being designed to prevent bacterial invasion, specific factors such as crowded environments, cold temperatures, heavy cigarette smoke, dust exposure, and poor ventilation make them more vulnerable to the disease.

Normally, the respiratory tract is lined with a mucous coating that helps trap the infectious particle. It is then expelled in the form of mucus and phlegm as an attempt to rid the body of these harmful bacterias. However, the pug’s elongated soft palates makes it harder for them to do so. Additionally, the aforementioned factors weaken its protection, thus making your pug more prone to the infection. This leads to the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box) being inflamed.

Signs & Symptoms

Pug owners that leave their dogs at a boarding kennel may not notice any signs of kennel cough immediately. Usually, the excessive cough begins a few days after arriving home. That’s because this disease has an incubation period of two to fourteen days after contracting the infection.

It’s worth noting that some carriers of the illness can be infectious for several months without showing any symptoms. When they do show, it is very noticeable, and some of these include:

  • A forceful, hacking cough that is hoarse and dry. It is a persistent cough that sounds similar to a goose honk. This is usually followed by a swallowing motion, gagging, or mucus production.
  • It looks and sounds like something is stuck in their throat.
  • Sneezing
  • A runny nose
  • Eye discharge
  • Retching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reduced energy levels

Kennel cough is different to reverse sneezing, which is triggered by a throat irritation. Although similar, it’s important to differentiate the two conditions, since kennel cough can develop into pneumonia in severe cases. This is potentially life-threatening, so a visitation to the vet should be scheduled immediately after noticing symptoms.

Treating Kennel Cough

There isn’t a specific test to diagnose kennel cough in dogs, however the symptoms and exposure to canine-populated places is enough for a vet to usually confirm it. The veterinarian can also take swabs to check the exact bacteria or virus causing the cough. If further complications arise, a radiography is used to assess the condition.

In saying that, not all infected pugs will require treatment. If the condition is mild, and the dog is healthy; they are likely to recover without any intervention within three to six weeks. During this time, owners can aid recovery by providing extra care and to ensure that the house is well-ventilated. Avoid using a collar since pulling on it can aggravate the windpipe further. Instead, opt for a harness when walking your pug.

If your vet decides that treatment is necessary, antibiotics can be administered to kill the bacteria causing the problem. Also, anti-inflammatories and cough suppressants can provide additional relief throughout your pug’s recovery phase.

Kennel Cough Prevention

For the more social pug that frequents places with more dogs, it is crucial that they are vaccinated. This will help them fight against the bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium and canine parainfluenza virus. The three kinds of vaccinations available are injectable, oral, and intranasal. They are initially given in two doses, 2-4 weeks apart. The vaccine is followed by a booster that is given routinely every six months to one year.

Vaccinations are a good preventative option, but this doesn’t mean they can’t still contract the disease. Also, the chances for infection and reinfection rises due to how often they are exposed to other dogs that may be carrying the virus. Therefore, it comes down to lifestyle choices, and owners may not feel the need for a vaccination if their pug rarely comes into contact with other dogs.

Those who have concerns about their pugs getting kennel cough should do their research before taking their dog to a potential exposure site. Checking the safety measures, cleanliness of the facilities, and reading up the handler’s credentials can help prevent your dog from contracting kennel cough. If it’s necessary for you to keep your pug at a boarding kennel, ensure that it’s a place where they require proof of immunization to bordetella.

A dog’s immune system will determine whether they will contract the disease, and if they do, the severity of the condition. Most dogs have protective immunity levels to the cough through minor exposure to these causative organisms, and might not catch the illness even when exposed. However, pugs without the immunizing antibodies makes them more vulnerable to kennel cough.

Elderly pugs, puppies, or dogs with any pre-existing conditions might develop severe coughing, and depending on the type of germs involved, the strain of the infection might make it more serious. It’s important for owners to look at ways of boosting their pug’s immune system, so that it has a higher chance of fighting it off. Keeping their dog clean, stress-free, providing a healthy diet and regular exercise, as well as regular visitations to the vet are some helpful tips.

Related Questions

What can I give my pug for kennel cough? If the symptoms are mild, no treatment is necessary. Focus on providing your pug with plenty of water, nutritious food, and rest. For severe cases, antibiotics will be prescribed by a veterinarian.

Should you walk a dog with kennel cough? Speak to your veterinarian to be sure, but they will be highly infectious, so it’s recommended to avoid other dogs during this period. If walking outside, use a harness rather than a collar, since it can aggravate the windpipe further when pulling on it.

Can humans catch kennel cough from a dog? It is very unlikely for a human to contract kennel cough from a dog, but it is not impossible. Symptoms in humans will be similar and treatment can involve antibiotics and cough suppressants. Most healthy individuals won’t be at risk unless they have an underlying medical condition.


American Kennel Club, 2019. Kennel Cough in Dogs – Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention.

Blue Cross, 2021. Kennel Cough.

Pet MD, 2019. Kennel Cough: An In-depth Look.

Trudell Animal Health, n.d. Kennel Cough Causes, Symptoms & Treatment.

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