Trainer Tips–The Truth About Kennel Cough (Bordatella)

5January 2015

What is Kennel Cough?


Kennel cough can have multiple causes, just like humans can catch cold from many different viruses.  The most common cause is a bacterium called Bordatella bronchiseptica.  This is why Kennel Cough is often referred to as Bordatella.  Dogs catch Kennel Cough when they inhale virus particles or bacteria into their respiratory tract.  Although this tract is normally lined with mucus that helps trap infectious particles, a number of factors can weaken this protection, making the dog more prone to the Kennel Cough infection.

These factors include:  
*Exposure to poorly ventilated or crowded conditions (such as those found in many shelters and kennels)
*Exposure to cigarette smoke or dust
*Stress induced by travel
*Cold temperatures

Symptoms of Kennel Cough

The most classic symptom is a persistent, forceful cough.  It has been said that is often sounds like a goose honk.  Some dogs also show other symptoms including:  runny nose, sneezing, or eye discharge.  The dog may also have a decreased energy level and lose his appetite.

Treating Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is contagious.  If you suspect your dog may have Kennel Cough, keep him away from other animals and contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Many cases of Kennel Cough will resolve without treatment.  However, medications may help minimize symptoms and speed recovery from the infection.  
To help your dog during this illness, it may also be helpful to use a harness instead of a head collar (something I would never normally recommend).  This will help ease and minimize the dog’s coughing.
Most dogs who contract Kennel Cough will completely recover in about three weeks.  Older dogs and dogs with other health problems may take as long as six weeks to recover.  

Vaccine for Kennel Cough

There are three forms of the Kennel Cough vaccine:  one that is delivered as a nasal mist (most common), one that is injected, and once that can be given by mouth.  The frequency of the vaccine can be given either every 6 months or once a year, depending on the dog’s activities and preference (some dog’s do better with a certain delivery system).
In my experience, Veterinarians have recommended your dog get this vaccine on a regular (yearly) basis.  However, this has changed a bit over the last 5 years or so.  Even more so, I have noticed that Veterinarians on the Hawaiian islands usually recommend NOT getting the vaccine.  After talking with my own Vet and several other local vets, my dogs are no longer receiving the Kennel Cough vaccine.  Although my dogs are constantly around other dogs and animals (they are used often in training), the vaccination may not be necessary.

Why the Kennel Cough Vaccination might be a bad thing

First off, a dog contracting Kennel Cough is about as dangerous as a human contracting the common cold.  
Furthermore, similar to the flu shot, the Kennel Cough Vaccination will not protect against every strain of bacteria or virus that may cause the illness.  It is estimated that there are at least 40 different agents that cause Kennel Cough, and the vaccination only contains a handful of these.
Also, older animals and animals with other illnesses should NOT be vaccinated.  Doing so can cause further or other health problems.
Another problem:  the vaccine is not safe.  Most vaccines are called “modified live vaccines.”  It has been shown that the “modified” viruses in human vaccines embed themselves in the genes of the host.  The vaccine can then shuffle around and reactivate  after thirty or more years.
The final problem that most people don’t know:  Dogs will shed the disease they were vaccinated against into their environment.  
Therefore, dogs vaccinated for Kennel Cough will shed that disease for up to 7 weeks.  This means that vaccinating your dog, potentially puts other dogs around you at risk because your dog will be shedding that disease into the environment.


Can’t decide what to do?  Talk to your veterinarian, or get a second veterinarian’s opinion.  In my experience and research, I do not believe it is necessary in most situations.  I will no longer be vaccinating my own dogs for Kennel Cough and no longer require the vaccination for training.