Kennel cough, or infectious tracheobronchitis, can spread from dogs to humans, but this is rare. In humans, symptoms may include a persistent cough, sore throat, and fever.

If your pup has a bad, hacking cough that won’t go away, it could be kennel cough. In extremely rare circumstances, you can develop it, too.

Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is a group of contagious respiratory diseases that often affect dogs.

While uncommon, kennel cough can be passed from animals to humans.

Read on to learn how kennel cough is transmitted to humans, who’s at risk, and how the disease is treated.

Kennel cough is a respiratory infection that’s caused by both bacteria and a virus. It affects a dog’s lungs, windpipe, and voice box.

The most common bacteria behind kennel cough is called Bordetella bronchiseptica. In fact, a lot of people refer to kennel cough as bordetella. Research has shown that this bacteria is closely related to the one that causes whooping cough in humans.

Kennel cough is usually caused by a combination of both Bordetella and viruses, such as canine distemper or canine influenza. These viruses weaken the immune system and attack cells in the respiratory tract.

While the disease usually affects dogs, other animals, such as cats, rabbits, horses, mice, and guinea pigs, can develop it as well.

It’s rare, but humans can also contract kennel cough from their pets. People with compromised immune systems, such as those who have lung cancer or HIV, are more likely to get it.

Kennel cough is highly contagious, but it’s usually treatable in healthy dogs. The infection can be life threatening only in puppies, older dogs, or immune-compromised dogs.

The disease can spread through:

  • Airborne droplets. When a dog barks, the bacteria can become airborne and transfer to others.
  • Direct contact. If dogs touch noses or share toys, the infection can spread.
  • Contaminated surfaces. Water and food bowls are hot spots for bacteria.

As its name implies, kennel cough is often transmitted in kennels, shelters, or boarding facilities. That’s because the animals are in close contact with each other, and germs can spread easily.

Before taking in animals, most kennels require dogs to be up to date on their vaccines, which includes vaccines to prevent kennel cough.

Kennel cough can cause a variety of signs and symptoms.

Kennel cough symptoms in dogs

Dogs may develop the following symptoms:

  • a loud, hacking cough that often sounds like “honking”
  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy
  • low fever

It’s important to know that some dogs can be carriers of the disease but not show any symptoms. They can still transmit the infection to other dogs.

Most dogs recover from kennel cough in about 3 to 6 weeks.

Kennel cough symptoms in humans

Humans who contract kennel cough may experience:

  • persistent cough
  • sore throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • other respiratory symptoms

Treatment for kennel cough may depend on the severity of the infection and the person or animal’s overall health, age, and other medical conditions.

Kennel cough treatments in dogs

Mild cases of kennel cough may go away on their own with a week or two of rest.

Some veterinarians may also recommend:

  • antibiotics
  • cough medicines
  • nebulizers or vaporizers

Vaccines are also available to protect dogs against some of the main pathogens responsible for kennel cough, including distemper, parainfluenza, and Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Kennel cough treatments in humans

Depending on the situation, doctors may recommend the following treatments for humans with kennel cough:

  • antibiotics
  • cough suppressants

Typically, the use of steroids is discouraged because they can weaken the immune system.

It’s important to remember that most healthy humans aren’t at risk for kennel cough. Research has shown, more often than not, there’s an underlying condition that makes the infection more likely.

In one study, 7 out of 8 patients with confirmed kennel cough had a significant preexisting medical condition, such as lung disease or autoimmune neutropenia.

Humans who do acquire kennel cough may develop pneumonia or an upper respiratory tract infection.

Some serious complications of pneumonia may include:

  • Septic shock. When chemicals from the original infection spread to the blood, it can lead to this potentially fatal condition.
  • Lung abscesses. These are collections of pus in the lung’s cavities.
  • Pleural effusion. If pneumonia isn’t treated, fluid can build up in the layers of tissue around the lungs. In some cases, it can become infected.
  • Respiratory failure. Sometimes, severe cases of pneumonia can cause respiratory failure.

See your doctor if you suspect you have kennel cough or another type of respiratory illness.

While it’s possible to contract kennel cough from a dog or other pet, it’s also unlikely. People with underlying medical conditions are most at risk.

The best way to protect against kennel cough is to make sure your pet is up to date on vaccinations.

If you or your dog develop the infection, it’s typically very treatable.