Updated on August 4, 2013
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.
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?
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
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com 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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.