Is the Kennel Cough Vaccine a Wise Choice for Your Dog?

With more than a dozen canine vaccines to choose from figuring out which ones your dog truly needs can be a challenge. The kennel cough vaccine is one you will need to consider. Unlike distemper and parvovirus vaccinations which are recommended for each and every dog (these diseases are ubiquitous, highly contagious, and life threatening), the kennel cough vaccine helps prevent a medical issue that is treatable and without universal risk of exposure.

In determining whether or not your dog should receive the kennel cough vaccination, the chicken soup philosophy of, “It couldn’t hurt!” doesn’t fly. All vaccines can cause negative side effects and a risk-benefit analysis should be performed for each and every one of them. The information below will help you determine if the kennel cough vaccine makes good sense for your dog.

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough, also referred to as “canine contagious cough complex” (fabulous alliteration!) is an infectious, contagious form of tracheobronchitis (inflammation of the windpipe and bronchial passageways). More than ten different organisms can cause kennel cough. The two most commonly discussed are Bordetella brochiseptica (a bacteria) and parainfluenza (a virus).

Kennel cough spreads from dog to dog via respiratory tract secretions, so it makes sense that places where dogs congregate (boarding or grooming facilities, dog shows, dog parks) are potential hotbeds of infection. Kennel cough produces a hacking, incessant, keep-you-awake-all-night kind of cough. Recommended therapy most commonly consists of a cough suppressant and antibiotics to treat any possible causative bacterial agent or prevent a secondary bacterial infection. Complete recovery is anticipated within 10 to 14 days.

The vaccination

All kennel cough vaccinations protect against Bordetella. Some also include protection against parainfluenza. When considering whether or not the kennel cough vaccine makes good sense for your dog, consider the following:

  • Bordetella and parainfluenza are only two of the many microorganisms capable of causing kennel cough. Just as is the case with the human flu vaccine, vaccinated individuals can still develop the disease if exposed to one of the other causative infectious agents.
  • Immunization against parainfluenza is almost always a component of the distemper/parvovirus combination vaccination. Repeating the parainfluenza component within the kennel cough vaccine adds no extra protection. If you choose to vaccinate for kennel cough, ask your veterinarian if he or she administers Bordetella alone or in combination with parainfluenza. If the latter is used, question the rationale behind this practice.
  • Kennel cough vaccines come in three forms; those administered as an injection under the skin, those given intranasally (directly into the nostrils), and a recently released vaccine that is administered orally. Duration of immunity for all of them is one year. It is thought that the intranasal kennel cough vaccination provides better protection than the injectable form. This is a result of the “local immunity” conferred- protection right at the site where kennel cough organisms enter the body. The intranasal vaccination can be more difficult to administer to a wiggly dog and can produce mild, short-lived kennel cough-like symptoms (primarily nasal discharge and coughing). The oral vaccine is new enough that detailed comparisons to the other forms have not been completed.
  • If a dog has never received a kennel cough vaccination, two dosages of the injectable form of the vaccine must be administered three to four weeks apart before immune protection is achieved. Only one dosage is required for the oral and intranasal vaccines. Following vaccination, establishment of immune protection requires 7 to 10 days for the injectable vaccine and 3 to 5 days following the intranasal or oral forms. What all of this means is that administering a kennel cough vaccine to your dog the day before he enters a boarding or grooming facility may get him through the door (many establishments require this vaccination be on board), but may not provide significant disease protection during his stay.

When conflict arises

What should you do if your vaccine preferences and those of the grooming or boarding facility you wish to use are at odds? Discuss your rationale with the business proprietor. If there is no wiggle room, you will need to acquiesce or find an alternative facility with less stringent requirements. What should you do if your veterinarian insists on administering unnecessary vaccinations to your dog? I encourage you to step up to the plate as your dog’s medical advocate and find yourselves a more progressive practitioner!

What decision will you make about the kennel cough vaccine for your dog?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.














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26 Comments on “Is the Kennel Cough Vaccine a Wise Choice for Your Dog?

  1. I am so grateful for this topic. I have been on the fence about what to do. My St. Bernard is due for his yearly physical and vaccinations and to date the vet has talked me into all of them… Bordatella, Lyme, Canine Flu and Leptospirosis. I cancelled my dogs appointment last week and was debating on switching Vets. My dog is 3 & 1/2. I did have another Saint years ago that got KC. She was not vaccinated. Because of her size, 5 weeks of antibiotics cost me $500 and she had just had surgery for the bloat so the timing could not have been worse. Anyway… as of now, I don’t plan to have him get the Bordatella vaccine.

  2. Hi Carolyn. Thanks for your comments. I think the key in your situation is to find a veterinarian who may not be as knowledgeable as you might like, but is hopefully open minded about learning new things. Then again, you and your dogs may simply have to move to a more progressive community!!!

  3. “I encourage you to step up to the plate as your dog’s medical advocate and find yourselves a more progressive practitioner!”

    I am totally on board with your comments. However, I now find myself in a lightly populated rural area. Finding “a more progressive practitioner” is proving to be quite a problem. For example, our new young vet responded, when I brought up titers, that in this practice, titers were for “show dogs!” And this is the second vet I have tried in the area!

  4. We did the intranasal for the kennel we use which they required. Our vet is one of the progressive ones, does titers instead of automatic vaccination, so we did not need parvo or distemper this year! Having been at a ‘chain’ vet clinic before this, I greatly appreciate the many options and extremely thoughtful care our vet provides. If anyone is in northeast/central Mass., I highly recommend Integrative Animal Health.

  5. Hi Tegan. Great question. The injectable kennel cough vaccine is much like distemper and parvovirus vaccinations. Initially, at least two vaccines given a few weeks apart is necessary to gear the immune system up to provide immediate protection against the infectious organisms. The goal is to create what is immunologically referred to as an “anamnestic response” in which the immune system has a quick and clear “memory” of the infectious agent and dispatches the appropriate infection fighting cells right away rather than days after the infection enters the body.

  6. “If a dog has never received a kennel cough vaccination, two dosages of the injectable form of the vaccine must be administered three to four weeks apart before immune protection is achieved.” Can you elaborate why this would be the case? Why does the first vaccine not achieve immunity?

  7. This statement is why I love you:
    What should you do if your veterinarian insists on administering unnecessary vaccinations to your dog? I encourage you to step up to the plate as your dog’s medical advocate and find yourselves a more progressive practitioner!

    I totally agree, we should be our dog’s advocate and be as well informed as we can reasonably be so we can make cooperative care decisions with our vet.


  8. I don’t routinely vaccinate my 4 dogs for KC even though my vet always sends reminders. I do, however, vaccinate any of our dogs if I have to kennel them for a period. Intranasal only. Kennels require it.
    I love your blog.

    Thanks for all you do and say.

  9. Our latest foster dog (an only dog – owner surrender) and was administered the Bordetella vaccine – He got a nasty case of KC. Our 4 dogs did not get KC (they are not vaccinated for it) and while I attribute their resistance to keeping them separated for 10 days, they didn’t come down with any symptoms.

    Too many dogs are overvaccinated and, if a dog is in a shelter and develops a URI – the Bordetella vacc certainly isn’t going to help them get better.


  11. I took six dogs to a large Lab Specialty show in MD where kennel cough was running rampant. The only dog who got sick was the one dog who had been vaccinated.

    Thank you for your wise and wonderful blog.

  12. I do not get my dogs vaccinated for kennel cough. Instead, I make sure their immune systems are boosted so their bodies can fight off any infections. Any rescues that wander through my home and have symptoms of KC are given a homeopathic honey-based cough syrup and raw honey in between doses, as well as colostrum or raw goat milk to boost their immune system. Usually all symptoms are mild and gone within 2-3 days – 5 at the most. None of my dogs have gotten KC from the rescues. I also continue with the immune system boosting for as long as I can to give the rescues a head start on their new lives and hope the adopters will continue to keep them healthy and strong. Almost all of my dogs/rescues have come to me with compromised immune systems – chronic mange, hypothyroid, anemia, CRF, Addison’s Disease – so I try to vaccinate as little as possible to not challenge their immune systems any more than necessary. Oh and I also rawfeed and that has helped so much – my vets have been amazed at how well all my dogs are doing considering their medical history and have even advised me to not stop what I was doing since it was working!

  13. Thanks Dr. Kay, for always having a good topic! I might feel differently if I was still breeding and had puppies to worry about but I no longer give Bordatella to my own dogs nor require it when friends dogs come to board. I will vaccinate (nasal only) rescues when they are leaving with their new families as so many vets/boarding kennels/training centers/daycare facilities require it. I will only give it as they are actually getting in the car to leave because I’ve had my guys cough for a day or two when exposed to the vaccine droplets sneezed out by the dog receiving the vaccine. Many years ago I vaccinated my entire crew and three weeks later took a dog into rescue who had kennel cough. Everyone of my recently vaccinated dogs contracted kennel cough and hacked for a week. I treated with cough supressents, they got over it. I never bothered with the vaccine after that and they have been exposed at least 4 additional times through rescue dogs with no one ever getting it again. I will no longer even consider using the injectable vaccine. In the late 90s, I had a show Tibetan Terrier loose her hair and develop thickened skin at the injection site. There was a 1″ square patch of skin that became bald, thick and hard, like a rawhide which took over a year to return to normal. Keep the immune system stong, if they do catch it, it’s usually a mild case and they will have better immunity to it in the future than any vaccine can provide. I don’t consider it the “plague” that most vets made it out to be in the 60s. Then it was considered horrible if your dog caught it.

  14. I have been operating day care and boarding in my home since 1991. I try to keep the total number of dogs at 15, but memory lapses have allowed up to 20 dogs on occasion…..I do not have a traditional kennel setup, but rather use expens and crates indoors and group play outdoors. There are communal water buckets.

    I have NEVER required kennel cough vaccines. In over 20 years and hundreds of dogs that have come through my doors, I have had kennel cough outbreaks 3-4 times. In each instance, only two or three dogs were affected, and overall it was the vaccinated dogs who became infected. The unvaccinated dogs largely remained healthy. In at least one instance it was a vaccinated dog who introduced the infection.

    When I have had a dog bring KC in, I immediately notified all owners and allowed them to make the decision of whether or not to bring their dogs in, or vaccinate before bringing them in.

    Of course, individual dogs’ health issues – such as heart disease – should always be taken into consideration before taking them into a boarding situation where KC might be a possibility ~

  15. I do not give my dogs this vaccine. My vet does insist on it if they are admitting the dog for the day/ a procedure. I take my dogs to agility trials and training class on a very regular basis and have not had any problems w/ KC so far.

    I believe in as little vaccination as possible!

  16. Jill,
    I sympathize with you. Although I have been requiring bordetella for boarding, I have never required it for my training clients, even groups. If they have a cough they don’t come to class. Now my classes are usually outside in my huge agility field and we have pretty constant breezes, so I see no need. I hope your trainer is a CPDT-KA, so might be somewhat knowledgeable and will be willing to listen to your concerns and be flexible. If not, come to Susanville, CA!!!!!:)

  17. As the owner of a small boarding and training kennel, this has always been an issue of great concern for me. Dr. Kay, thank you for this well written article. I noticed you did not voice your personal opinion of kennel protocols.:)

    The veterinarian who built our kennel back in the 50’s designed it with 8′ high cement block walls between the runs. They are safe and dogs cannot fencefight, but circulation is not what I would like. We opened in 2004 and have required bordetella within the year on all dogs, unless, of course, they have compromised immune systems or are really old 13 yrs+ usually, or really young 3-4 mos. I know that may seem silly since those might be the most at risk, but the youngsters are already getting hit with so much and the seniors should not be hit with anything they don’t absolutely need. We have only 12 runs. The health of the dogs is paramount while I urge everyone to not get annual DH2P, tell them titers or shots within 3 yrs satisfy my concerns. All dogs go outside to our 1 acre playyard 5-6x/day alone, in pairs or in groups up to 9 dogs max.So I often consider doing away with the bordetella requirement. But good golly, if we had an outbreak, dogs got sick and people had extra vet bills, I would feel terrible and my reputation would take a hit. Any further thoughts????

  18. I have my 6th golden retriever now ( 13 months old) and was debating the bordetella vaccine as the trainer of an obedience class requested it. Your posting could not have been better timed for me! The only time I gave my last crew of goldens bordetella vaccine they actually got sick and the one dog never got over the damage to his trachea. My 5th golden did not have bordetella vaccine and traveled to many dog shows and dog places -never got sick- but when there were outbreaks of the cough at shows many dogs got sick- but mine did not. We focus on a strong immune system. But I was still debating with this 6th golden thinking I should not be so paranoid. Now I am realizing it will go against my core belief system for my dog’s health, so we shall see if the trainer budges or I do not attend her class.

  19. If the kennel cough vaccines are good for a year, why do so many vets and boarding facilities insist they be given every six months?

  20. Hi Gayle. You aks a really great question. I do recommend the keenel cough vaccine for dogs with trachea or lung disease who will be in close contact with other dogs. While kennel cough is quite readily treatable in most dogs, it could easily exacerbate an underlying medical issue. Thanks for bringing up this important point.

  21. Is the vaccine more important in little dogs with easily collapsible trachea, or “backward sneeze”?
    Also, if my dogs get bordetella and parainfluenza vaccines regularly is that the same thing as a kennel cough vaccine?

  22. Excellent blog again Nancy. More pet parents need to have this information as so many blindly just vaccinate their dogs without knowing the options.

  23. I don’t object to the bordatella vaccine. I don’t want my dogs getting sick while boarding, or if something happens to me, to wind up being put down in a shelter due to a cough.

  24. Good post. Kirby gets the bordetalla by nose because its required for him to stay at the PetSmart hotel and day camp.