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Why You SHOULD Vaccinate Your Dog Against Bordetella (Kennel Cough)

Updated on November 16, 2015
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I am a vet tech with my B.S. in Animal Science and a passion for animal health, dog training, fitness, organization, and always learning.

As a veterinary technician, I see a lot (and I mean a lot) of dog owners come in for their yearly vaccinations, and decline to receive the bordetella vaccine. I explain to them each time why they should really reconsider, and ninety percent of the time, I get blown off with a shrug and a "maybe next time" kind of answer. Unfortunately, many people don't understand just how easy it is for dogs to contract kennel cough, but I'm here to break it down for you.

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The Cold, Hard, Undeniable Truth About Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a respiratory disease cause by a bacteria known as Bordetella bronchiseptica. The distinguishing symptom is a hack-like cough and is often an issue for adoption centers, boarding facilities, and dog park. It's basically bronchitis for dogs.

But my dog doesn't get boarded or go to dog parks; what's the point in vaccinating him?

This is a common question, and most pet owners come to the same conclusion without fully understanding the disease. What's this conclusion?

"There is no point in vaccinating your dog against kennel cough if they don't spend time with other dogs."

Makes sense, right? Wrong.

Let me clarify... Kennel cough is an air-borne disease, meaning it's spread through the air. When an infected dog breathes, the wind blows, and your dog breathes, they stand the chance of getting infected.. Yes - that means it can travel between dogs even if they never come into contact.

That is why you should vaccinate your dog against kennel cough regardless of their lack of contact with other dogs.

Well shoot... My dog isn't vaccinated. What do I do?

Get him vaccinated! You have a few options as far as the type of vaccine your pup receives:

  • Nasal Bordetella: this is a 1 mL liquid vaccination that is designed from the active bacteria that caused kennel cough. It is dispensed into your dog's nasal cavity. It is the quickest acting vaccination among your options, but it's labelled to last only 6 months.
  • Injectable Bordetella: this is a 1 mL liquid vaccination that is injected under your dog's skin. It is produced using the active cell antigens (antibodies to fight off this particular infection). It's not as quick-acting as the nasal version, but it lasts for a whole year!

Either option will do the trick!

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What to Do if Your Dog Gets Kennel Cough

If your dog gets kennel cough, then it's time to call the vet for an appointment. After the diagnosis, you'll probably be sent home with some antibiotics (i.e. clavamox, cephalexin, doxycyline) and cough tablets. Finish the antibiotic regimen.

But he's feeling better, so I'm going to stop giving him the medicine.

Let me repeat myself... FINISH THE ANTIBIOTIC REGIMEN. This is extremely important! If you don't finish the regimen, the remaining bacteria can grow resistant and further treatment will be much more difficult. That's more illness for your pup and more money out of your pocket. As a vet tech, I hear many clients complain that their dog's cough comes back or "just won't go away", but later find out that they chose not to finish the antibiotics. This typically means extending the antibiotic regimen or kicking it up to a stronger, and probably more expensive antibiotic.

Also, keep your pup home - no more boarding, training classes, or dog parks. No more socializing with other pups until he's all better. You don't want to spread the kennel cough around, exposing other dogs to the potential of getting sick.

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Things to Remember:

  • The bordetella vaccine covers the most common strain. Like many other bacterial infections, there are different strains. In other word - the vaccine covers the common "flu", but it can't cover every strain.
  • Kennels, training classes, and dog parks are essentially like sending your pup to daycare, school, or the park. If one pup has it, everyone is exposed. Don't be too surprised if your pup is vaccinated against kennel cough, but still comes home with a bit of a cough. Chances are it's a different strain, and it's probably not as severe as it would have been if you haven't gotten that vaccine on board.

Take care of your dog and be aware of the diseases that threaten them. Taking steps against these threats can greatly improve the health of your dog.

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