kennel cough in dogs

Vaccination doesn’t guarantee your dog won’t get kennel cough. Find out why, and how an integrative approach that includes Chinese herbs and homeopathy can combat this contagious respiratory disease.  

 Kennel cough is an extremely contagious respiratory disease in dogs. It’s named for the fact that it’s most commonly contracted in situations where large numbers of dogs come together – e.g. boarding kennels. But your dog can also get kennel cough (known as infectious tracheobronchitis) at dog daycares, dog parks and other areas frequented by lots of canines. This article looks at why vaccinating against kennel cough isn’t a failsafe, and how an integrative approach to the disease, including Chinese herbs and homeopathy, is most effective.

Why kennel cough requires a multi-pronged approach

Kennel cough was among the conditions that showed me the benefits of integrative medicine. While an extern at the Foxhound breeding colony at the NIH in 1979, my job was to culture every coughing dog. Amazingly, there were few similar organisms present in each dog, and over a dozen different bacteria present in the kennel. Viruses were also certainly implicated.

I began to wonder how any vaccine could be effective against kennel cough. When I was a new graduate, I worked in over ten clinics as a part time and relief veterinarian. Each clinic had very different protocols for treating kennel cough, ranging from honey to multiple drugs.

Multiple organisms reside in the respiratory tract. They cause no clinical signs unless triggered by stressors like viruses, smoke, crowding, poor ventilation, etc. By deeply improving the health of each dog, respiratory symptoms rarely develop even when the animal is exposed to “infectious” organisms. Many congenital abnormalities can also be resolved with integrative approaches.

Integrative approaches to the rescue

Interestingly, once a majority of clients in a veterinary practice are using various holistic approaches to maintain health, very few cases of kennel cough are seen, even in situations with high numbers of dogs. Most of the casesth high nimbers of dogsr multiple dog facilities reported were in newly adopted dogs.

Integrative treatments may focus both on symptom relief and on correcting the underlying imbalance allowing the condition to occur. Chinese herbs (and other TCVM modalities such as acupuncture, Tui Na, food therapy) and homeopathy are the most likely modalities for resolving the tendency to get any infection, so they will be primarily addressed in this article.

Western herbs, Reiki, flower essences, chiropractic, osteopathy and supplements can also be used to resolve any one episode of kennel cough, as well as build health over time. Be sure to work with an integrative or holistic veterinarian before trying any new therapies on your dog.

Chinese herbs

The selection of Chinese herbs for kennel cough is based on the individual characteristics of the dog as well as the pathology, so it’s very important to consult with a veterinarian who is well-versed in their use.

  • Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang — one veterinarian has had nice results with this, often along with using allopathic medications.
  • Wei Chi Booster – helps the immune system.
  • Yin Qiao San – for the early stages of infection with fever and red tongue with yellow coating.
  • Qing Fei San – for phlegm heat with fever. Dry, red tongue with surging rapid pulse.
  • Zhi Shou San – can stop coughing in many animals.
  • Lonicera and Forsythia (commonly used for colds and flu in people) – a remote town that had no kennel cough for years was visited by a coughing dog, after which most dogs began coughing. This herb worked in a few days for most of them.


Historically, homeopathy has been a superior approach for human epidemic situations such as influenza, typhoid and yellow fever. In animals, parvo, distemper and kennel cough frequently resolve quickly with homeopathy, even in cases not already under constitutional holistic care.

In my homeopathic practice, the few cases of kennel cough I’ve seen resolved within 48 hours with one of a variety of different homeopathic remedies. Fewer than five animals (out of 20 homeopathic veterinarians interviewed) needed multiple remedies or took over a week to resolve.

Each homeopathic medicine is chosen based on symptoms shown in the animal. Common symptoms of kennel cough include sudden onset of sneezing, spontaneous hacking, dry coughing that may induce gagging, easily inducible cough, and sometimes mandibular lymphadenopathy, nasal and/or ocular discharge. What helps with the remedy selection is how each animal is acting differently with these symptoms. Does the cough occur in the morning, on exposure to cold air, after eating a cracker or other dry food, etc.? Any one of the 4,000+ medicines could be needed to treat kennel cough, and a few seem to help with many dogs as reported by a number of homeopathic veterinarians:

  • Aconitum – given at the very beginning of any infection, especially in group settings to prevent or minimize symptoms. Often, the dogs are acting more fearful and may be febrile.
  • Belladonna – lots of redness anywhere on the body, including the skin and mucus membranes, as well as fever, panting, feeling hot and seeking cold areas, and a harsh strong cough.
  • Bryonia – each cough hurts because it moves the body, and every motion hurts these patients.
  • Drosera – a common internet suggestion that focuses on the larynx. For a spasmodic, dry cough that’s worse after midnight.
  • Kennel cough nosode – a nosode is made from the sputum of an infected dog. There are many differing opinions about the use of nosodes in preventing illness. When symptoms are not clear, some homeopathic veterinarians begin with these.
  • Pertussinum – a nosode made from whooping cough. Sometimes used preventatively; other times as part of the homeopathic treatment.
  • Phosphorus – dogs exhibit fear of loud noises, are better for being petted and the center of attention, have a thirst for cold water, and a tickling cough from an irritated throat or larynx.
  • Lachesis – aversion to having the throat touched, cough on touching the throat, seeking cold, averse to abdominal palpation, thirsty and irritable.
  • Morgan Bach – congestion, and as support for other remedies.
  • Rumex – tickling in throat and larynx, worse from barking, and worse when going out in cold weather.
  • Spongia – dry croupy cough, larynx sensitive to touch, better from eating or drinking, worse in the wind.
  • Other remedies reported as successful include Antimonium-tartaricum, Euphrasia, Conium, Cocculus-cacti, Bromium, Ipecac pulsatilla and Rhu-toxicodendrum.

Give a few pellets of 30c in the mouth several times a day. Give less frequently as the dog improves. Consult your homeopathic veterinarian (he/she can help by phone) if there is a worsening of either the cough or how your dog feels in general. One joy of seeing each dog as unique is that we can resolve acute infections as well as more challenging tracheal diseases, while building overall health. This approach can also prevent problems, as well as inhibit further spread of infection in group settings such as kennels, day care or training facilities.

The issue with vaccination

Because of the variety of organisms present, vaccination has focused on Bordetella bronchiseptia. Vaccines (different organisms, different formulations) have been used since 1970, yet many questions are still not answered.

A study done in 2004 “compared the effectiveness of intranasal (IN) vaccines containing Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine-parainfluenza virus, with (IN-BPA) or without (IN-BP) canine-adenovirus type 2, for prevention of kennel cough at a humane shelter…. The IN-BP and IN-BPA vaccines were 20.7% and 24.4% effective, respectively, in reducing coughing compared with a placebo vaccine.” As you can see, these percentages aren’t very high.

Additional holistic modalities for kennel cough

  • Vitamins C (500 to 2,000 mg per day, divided) and E (800 to 2,400 IU daily).
  • Colostrum at 500 mg per 25 pounds.
  • Honey, or honey and lemon juice, or coconut oil can be soothing and any amount is safe; average dose is 1 tsp per 20 pounds.
  • Marshmallow root is gentler than commonly-used slippery elm; dissolve 1 tsp in 8 ounces warm water and give a teaspoon at a time.