The Kennel Cough Vaccine: 3 Critical Problems kennel cough vaccine

By: Dana Scott

Reading Time: 6 minutes

  • Kennel cough is a respiratory infection caused by a number of bacteria and viruses
  • It is not usually dangerous and normally clears up without treatment within a few weeks
  • Apart from your dog coughing, the infection is unlikely to make them feel ill
  • But puppies, elderly dogs and those with existing medical conditions can be susceptible to complications from kennel cough, such as pneumonia
  • Kennel cough has an incubation period of two to 14 days
  • A kennel cough vaccine is available and is often required for a stay in kennels where the highly-contagious infection can spread easily

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is the common name given to infectious bronchitis in dogs. Just as in chest infections in humans, a number of different bacteria and viruses can cause the illness – normally a combination of both. It affects their respiratory system, causing them to cough.

Is kennel cough dangerous or life-threatening?

While a nuisance, kennel cough is not normally dangerous and is likely to need no treatment at all. But in puppies, elderly dogs or those with existing illnesses, the condition can be more serious and can develop into pneumonia. Depending on the germs which have caused the virus, some strains of the infection can also be more severe than others.

I’m willing to bet that when your dog’s daycare, training facility or kennel asks for a kennel cough vaccine, you vaccinate your dog, right? You want to protect your dog (and other dogs) from illness and you trust your vet or daycare provider to have your dog’s best interests at heart.

But before you should give your dog any vaccine, there are questions you should ask:

Is the vaccine safe?

Is it effective?

Is the disease it’s intended to prevent dangerous?

I’m about to tell you some things that will make you reconsider whether the kennel cough vaccine is really the best choice for your dog.

What You Should Know About The Kennel Cough Vaccine Bordetella, also known as kennel cough, is a vaccine your groomer, boarding kennel, doggie daycare, training facility and vet clinic probably tell you is essential. It’s become a routine requirement for any dog that spends time with other dogs – in other words, nearly all dogs.

That a vaccine exists is surprising in itself. Kennel cough is a self limiting disease that’s about as dangerous to your dog as the common cold is to you. Most vaccines these days are modified live vaccines.

And that’s a problem.

But daycare and boarding facilities worry about it a lot. When our children get colds, we keep them at home and give them some chicken soup – that’s just common sense. If our dogs catch a cold, we’ve been led to think that they’re carrying a dangerous and highly contagious disease. So we vaccinate our dogs to prevent kennel cough. The scary thing is that there are three pretty big problems with this approach:

Problem 1: The Vaccine Doesn’t Work All That Well Here’s the reason the common intranasal kennel cough vaccine isn’t a terribly good idea: There are at least forty agents that cause bordetella … But only a couple of these agents are contained in the vaccine. This makes the bordetella vaccine a complete shot in the dark. In fact, the vaccine is so ineffective that leading veterinary immunologist Dr Ronald Schultz has stated …

Kennel Cough is not a vaccinatable disease. Dr Ronald Schultz

That’s the opinion of the most qualified veterinary immunologist in the world. But despite this, vets still vaccinate a massive number of dogs for this simple ailment every day. And they continue to recommend the vaccine if your dog’s “exposed” to other dogs, Maybe it’s because they figure the vaccine might work – and because the vaccine is just an intranasal spray, it’s considered pretty safe, right? Well, that leads us to the next problem …

Problem 2: The Vaccine Is Not Safe Most vaccines these days are modified live vaccines. And that’s a problem. It’s been shown that the “modified” viruses in human vaccines embed themselves in the genes of the host and can shuffle around and reactivate thirty or more years after vaccination. According to Patricia Jordan DVM, bacterial vaccines like bordetella can also lurk in the genetic makeup, waiting to replicate and awaken as a disease that could be a much more dangerous than kennel cough.

Vaccination of any sort also elevates histamine, which we all know can promote cancer and chronic inflammation. But aside from the dangers of the vaccine, here’s another interesting fact …

Problem 3: Somebody Did Some Bad Maths... Here’s a little known fact: vaccinated dogs shed the disease into the environment. Dogs that are vaccinated for kennel cough will shed that disease for up to 7 weeks – and para-influenza for a week. That means that after your dog’s vaccinated, he can spread bordetella to all the other dogs he comes in contact with.

Doesn’t that seem like a huge problem?

Let’s look at two different daycare scenarios.

Daycare # 1 They have 50 dogs a day. They don’t require the kennel cough vaccine. One day a dog walks in with kennel cough. He’s sneezing, he’s hacking and the smart daycare provider will kindly isolate him for the day and then ask his owners to keep him home for the next few days. A few other dogs in the daycare might catch his kennel cough. So this is why most daycare facilities insist you vaccinate your dog. Makes sense, right? Well, not exactly. Let’s consider what would happen if all the dogs were vaccinated.

Daycare # 2 This daycare also has 50 dogs a day … but they require the kennel cough vaccine. If every dog gets the vaccine yearly (though it’s often given twice a year), that’s 50 dogs a year coming in shedding the kennel cough. And not just for a few days, but for as long as 7 weeks! And they’re shedding influenza too. The worst part is … the daycare doesn’t know which dog is spreading the disease so they can’t ask him to stay home. He’s mingling with the other dogs and spreading bordetella all over the joint … … and because the vaccine is so ineffective, a lot of other dogs will catch it.

So, does giving your dog the kennel cough vaccine still sound like a good idea to you? The next time your vet, daycare, boarding or training facility demands that you vaccinate your dog for kennel cough, you’ll probably want to consider some different options. 

 3 Safe Alternatives

There are several ways that you can protect your dog when it comes to the kennel cough vaccine. Tell the facility you’ll sign a waiver stating you are 100% responsible if your dog catches kennel cough while at their facility. If they resist, ask: if the vaccine works and all other dogs are vaccinated, why is my unvaccinated dog a problem?

Support the people who DON’T make you do something that could harm your dog. Do your research and find great facilities that don’t require the vaccine. Reward them for taking extra special care of your dog by giving them your business! If you can’t find a facility in your area that understands that kennel cough vaccination is a bad idea, look for a dog trainer, groomer, sitter or walker who will come to your home instead.

And be sure to share this information with your dog-owning friends.

When more dog owners demand better from these dog businesses, then we’ll force them to change their dangerous and unwise policies on kennel cough. Don’t make excuses for this one.

Put your dog’s health first right now … … and not after your dog suffers an adverse reaction from the kennel cough vaccine.