Canine cough

Increase in cases of Canine Cough in New Zealand (May 2022)

We have been informed that veterinarians are seeing an increase in cases of canine cough in dogs in certain parts of New Zealand. There is no evidence to suggest that this is in any way related to Covid-19 and it is not a zoonotic disease (it is not transmitted from animals to humans).

What is canine cough and how do I know if my dog has it?

Canine cough, also known as canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), and previously referred to as kennel cough, is a common, infectious upper respiratory disease seen in dogs. It is not a serious disease in most otherwise healthy dogs. However, it is very contagious and will spread rapidly among a population of dogs. As the name suggests, it causes coughing that can last up to several weeks in some cases.

Canine cough is transmitted through dog-to-dog contact by sniffing and coughing, sharing of food and water bowls, and toys. The time from exposure to coughing can be 2 to 14 days. Dogs in kennels, doggie day-care, training classes, group dog walks or those that spend time at parks and beaches where dogs socialise may have an increased risk of exposure.

The disease is characterised by a harsh, hacking cough that most people describe like “something stuck in my dog’s throat” or a “goose honk.” Your dog may appear to be retching and swallowing, and the cough can be productive, often with the production of foamy mucus (which may be confused with vomiting). Dogs may develop a discharge from their nose or eyes.

An uncomplicated case of canine cough runs a course of a week or two with frequent episodes of coughing, often made worse by barking, exercise or excitement. Most dogs maintain normal energy levels and appetite. Complicated cases may become lethargic, have reduced or loss of appetite and develop a fever. If you are concerned about your dog, you should seek advice from your veterinarian.

What causes canine cough?

Canine cough is multifactorial, meaning it can be caused by a combination of viruses and bacteria. Environmental factors such as stress, dust and changes in humidity often contribute to spread of disease and the severity of symptoms.

What to do if your dog has canine cough?

If your dog has clinical signs of canine cough, keep him or her at home and call your veterinarian for advice. If your dog does not seem unwell other than the cough, he or she may not need any treatment other than rest. You must keep your dog at home until the cough has completely resolved, which is usually about a week in uncomplicated cases. Be aware that barking may trigger coughing, so keeping your dog quiet and rested where possible may help reduce coughing bouts. Offering soft food instead of dry biscuits may help encourage your dog’s appetite. If your dog normally wears a collar, removing it may help to prevent further irritation to their throat. It is worth considering the use of a harness or halter and lead as a suitable alternative.

Antibiotics may be required if your dog has signs of bacterial infection such as a fever, a reduction in appetite or a drop in energy levels but are not typically prescribed in most cases.

If a visit to your veterinarian is required, follow their instructions as measures will be required to keep other dogs safe and reduce the risk of transmission.


It is important that your dog’s routine vaccinations are kept up to date. Vaccination provides protection against many of the more common or serious bacteria and viruses that cause canine cough but does not protect against every agent that can contribute to the disease. Vaccination plays a significant role in preventing disease, reducing the severity of the symptoms, and reducing the spread of disease.