Can Humans Get Kennel Cough Illustration

Can Humans Get Kennel Cough? (2024)

by | Updated: Mar 15, 2024

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease that dogs often contract, notably known for its distinctive cough.

It is caused by the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium. While this disease is commonly associated with canines, the concern over its interspecies transmission potential raises valid queries.

This article explores whether humans can contract kennel cough, delving into the interaction between the disease and the human immune system.

Can Humans Get Kennel Cough?

Yes, humans can contract a form of kennel cough (i.e., (Bordetella bronchiseptica) from dogs, but it is extremely rare and primarily only affects people with weakened immune systems. In humans, the infection may present symptoms such as persistent cough, sore throat, and fever. However, the manifestation in humans is not precisely identical to “kennel cough” in dogs.

person coughing while standing next to a dog kennel vector

What is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs, caused by a combination of viruses and bacteria, including Bordetella bronchiseptica.

It is characterized by a persistent, forceful cough and can be transmitted through the air or by contact with contaminated surfaces.

Although usually mild, it can lead to severe complications, especially in puppies or immunocompromised dogs.

How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

Dogs get kennel cough through several means, including:

  • Airborne Transmission: When an infected dog coughs, sneezes, or barks, it can release respiratory secretions into the air, which can be inhaled by a susceptible dog.
  • Direct Contact: Nose-to-nose contact with an infected dog can spread the disease.
  • Contaminated Surfaces: Shared toys, water dishes, food bowls, or other objects can carry the bacteria and viruses responsible for kennel cough if they’ve been in contact with an infected dog.
  • Human Transmission: While humans don’t contract kennel cough, they can unknowingly spread it from one dog to another via their hands or clothing.

Note: Dogs are especially at risk in crowded environments like kennels, dog parks, grooming salons, and veterinary clinics where close proximity to other dogs increases the chances of transmission.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs and Humans

Kennel cough primarily affects dogs, and it is usually characterized by symptoms such as:

  • A persistent, dry, hacking cough
  • Retching or gagging, especially after coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

Humans typically do not get kennel cough, so they do not display symptoms.

However, people with compromised immune systems or pre-existing respiratory conditions might be susceptible to a Bordetella bronchiseptica infection, experiencing symptoms like:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Fatigue

Note: In humans, such instances are extremely rare and would represent an atypical presentation of the bacteria responsible for kennel cough in dogs.

Consequences of Kennel Cough in Humans

In humans, an infection from Bordetella bronchiseptica, related to kennel cough in dogs, can lead to respiratory symptoms like cough, sore throat, and possibly fever.

However, such instances are extremely rare and primarily occur in individuals with compromised immune systems or those with pre-existing health conditions.

Typically, consequences are mild and manageable, but severe complications can arise in immunocompromised individuals, necessitating medical attention.

Treatment for Kennel Cough in Humans

Treatment for humans infected with Bordetella bronchiseptica, related to kennel cough in dogs, may involve antibiotics to manage bacterial infection, especially for immunocompromised individuals.

Over-the-counter medications might be recommended to alleviate symptoms like cough and fever.

In severe cases, hospitalization may be required to manage complications. It is crucial for anyone experiencing persistent symptoms to seek medical advice for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

FAQs About Kennel Cough in Humans

How Long is a Dog Contagious With Kennel Cough?

A dog with kennel cough is most contagious during the incubation period, which is roughly 2-14 days post-exposure, and it can continue to spread the disease for approximately 10-20 days after symptoms appear.

Some dogs may shed the bacteria for several months post-recovery.

What Does Kennel Cough Sound Like?

Kennel cough is characterized by a persistent, forceful, dry, hacking cough. It may sound like the dog has something stuck in its throat or is choking.

The cough can be distressing for the dog and is often exacerbated by excitement or exercise.

Is Kennel Cough Contagious to Humans?

Typically, kennel cough is not contagious to humans as it is a species-specific condition. However, there have been extremely rare instances where the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium has caused respiratory infections in immunocompromised humans.

The risk for the general human population is negligible.

How Can Humans Get Kennel Cough?

Humans, especially those with compromised immune systems, can theoretically contract Bordetella bronchiseptica through close contact with infected dogs or contaminated surfaces.

However, such transmissions are exceedingly rare, and kennel cough is generally not a risk to humans.

What are the Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Humans?

In the extremely rare cases where humans have contracted Bordetella bronchiseptica, symptoms can include cough, fever, sore throat, runny nose, and fatigue.

However, kennel cough predominantly affects dogs, and human infection is exceptionally uncommon.

What are the Complications of Kennel Cough in a Human?

While exceptionally rare, complications in humans could potentially include persistent cough, respiratory distress, and secondary bacterial infections, especially in individuals with pre-existing health conditions or compromised immune systems.

The potential for severe complications in humans is minimal due to the rarity of transmission.

Can Humans Pass Kennel Cough to Other Dogs?

Yes, humans can indirectly transmit kennel cough to other dogs.

While humans do not get infected, they can carry the virus or bacteria on their hands, clothes, or shoes after contact with an infected dog and subsequently pass it on to other dogs.

What is the Fastest Way to Cure Kennel Cough?

There is no “fast cure” for kennel cough as it is a viral and bacterial infection. However, supportive care such as maintaining hydration, proper nutrition, and rest can aid recovery.

Veterinarians may prescribe antibiotics to address bacterial infection and cough suppressants to manage symptoms. Isolating the infected dog can prevent the spread to other dogs.

Typically, mild cases resolve in 1-2 weeks, but veterinary advice is crucial for proper management and recovery.

Final Thoughts

After exploring the intricacies of kennel cough and its causative agent, Bordetella bronchiseptica, it’s clear that typical kennel cough is predominantly a canine ailment.

While there are rare cases where the bacterium can infect humans, particularly those with weakened immune systems, it doesn’t manifest with the coughing symptoms observed in dogs.

The instances of human infection are scarce, reinforcing that kennel cough is predominantly a concern for our canine companions rather than a substantial human health risk.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


  • Woolfrey BF, Moody JA. Human infections associated with Bordetella bronchiseptica. Clin Microbiol Rev. 1991 Jul
  • Reagan KL, Sykes JE. Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2020 Mar

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