Understanding the Kennel Cough Vaccine

The “kennel cough” vaccine is actually an injection or nasal mist that specifically targets the bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica, which is only one of several potential infectious agents underlying canine infectious tracheobronchitis.

Because bordetella is a very common cause of kennel cough, however, this vaccine is required by the vast majority of canine day care, grooming, and boarding facilities.

(Note that when the vaccine is administered as an intranasal mist it will be four days before the dog enjoys any protection. If injected, it is not effective for seven days.)

Kennel Cough Vaccine is Controversial

Detractors of the kennel cough vaccine argue that the requirement for the vaccine is meaningless, and even potentially dangerous.

In a small percentage of cases (less than 5%), some dogs will develop kennel cough 3-10 days after being given the vaccine. In rare cases, dogs have gone into anaphylactic shock within minutes.

With any vaccination, it’s best to ask the vet to allow you to remain at the clinic until you are certain your dog is not going to have a life-threatening reaction.

A dog’s system changes over time, so do not assume that simply because your dog has never had a problem with a vaccine that issues cannot arise in the future.

Typically 30 minutes is sufficient time to gauge your dog’s reaction. If the clinic is crowded and busy, remain in the waiting room or parking lot. The point is to have access to emergency help if you need it.

Even proponents of the kennel cough vaccine acknowledge that when given as a shot, the vaccine can raise a sore lump at the injection site. Other side effects may include hives, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing.

Armed with this information, many owners ask what does seem to be a reasonable question. “Why should I risk vaccinating my dog against a disease that is not life threatening?”

The principle objection to the vaccine is much more basic, however. It provides only partial protection from one of many infectious agents that may cause kennel cough. Additionally, the vaccine will do nothing to relieve the symptoms of an animal that has already contracted the infection.

For owners who object to the kennel cough vaccine, options for grooming and boarding have to be re-examined. There are groomers who will come to your home, and you can hire a pet sitter to feed and water your pet when you are away.

Typically these services are more expensive as they involve travel costs for the provider. Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety may become destructive when left home alone. Certainly there are combination pet and house sitters, but you are then faced with the prospect of finding someone you trust to be in your home.

There are always down sides to either approach, but in truth, the only way to effectively protect your pet against kennel cough and other infectious diseases is to limit or eliminate your pet’s exposure to other animals.

If you add to this a reluctance to vaccinate, “at home” options for grooming and care are all that remain.