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Can Dogs Get Kennel Cough From the Vaccine?


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Over the years, there has been much controversy and speculation over whether animals and people can get illnesses from the vaccines that are supposed to prevent them. When a vaccine is administered, it stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies. This can result in the appearance of symptoms of the disease vaccinated for. If the vaccine is made from a killed virus, this effect is less pronounced. However, if the vaccine contains live virus, it is possible that the vaccination could cause more pronounced symptoms of the illness, although a full-blown case of the disease is unlikely. So in the case of kennel cough (bordetella) vaccine, can your dog get the disease from the vaccine?

Can dogs get kennel cough from the vaccine?

Dogs can develop symptoms of kennel cough from the vaccine but, no, a full-blown form of the illness is extremely unlikely.

There are two forms of the kennel cough vaccine, live vaccine and killed vaccine. They also come in either an injectable vaccine that is given under the skin with a needle and an intranasal vaccine that is squirted into your dog’s nose. The intranasal, live, vaccine is thought to be more effective and quicker acting and is commonly used. However, it can cause symptoms of kennel cough, which in some animals may be more pronounced.

Does my dog have kennel cough from the vaccine?

The bordetella vaccine causes your dog's immune system to develop antibodies to the kennel cough bacteria, Bordetella bronchiseptica. When live vaccine is used, or when the body is developing antibodies to either the live or killed vaccine, kennel cough symptoms may occur. The reaction is usually much milder than the actual illness and passes uneventfully. Symptoms and side effect of the bordetella vaccine in your dog are:

If a dog develops full-blown kennel cough after receiving the vaccine, it is most likely that they were exposed to the disease prior to being vaccinated, and developed the illness before their immune system had a chance to develop antibodies from the vaccine. It should also be noted that there are viral components to kennel cough illness. The vaccine guards against the bacteria that contributes to kennel cough, however, viral components of kennel cough can cause illness that the vaccine does not prevent.

Also, if your dog acquires kennel cough several weeks or months after being vaccinated, it could be that the vaccine has worn off, it may only be effective for 6 months after receiving it, or that the vaccine was improperly stored or administered, rendering it ineffective. If your dog has a compromised immune system, it is more likely that the vaccine may not be effective or that side effects may be experienced. 

If your dog experiences severe and lingering kennel cough symptoms after being vaccinated, you should check with your veterinarian to determine if they have a full-blown case of kennel cough or are just experiencing side effects. Your veterinarian will make a diagnosis of kennel cough based on symptoms and history of exposure. A culture of nasal discharge can confirm the bacterial agent present causing symptoms, if the infection is bacterial.

Read more about diagnosing and treating kennel cough at: Kennel Cough in Dogs.

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How do I treat my dog's kennel cough from the vaccine?

Fortunately, even if your dog acquires kennel cough symptoms from the vaccine, or in spite of it, the disease is not serious and most dogs recover uneventfully.

There are several things you can do to ease your pet's symptoms:

  • Use a harness, instead of a collar, which can trigger coughing by putting pressure on the trachea
  • Humidify air—a steam shower may be effective
  • Support your dog's immune system with echinacea, vitamin C and a high protein diet
  • Honey may help reduce coughing

Your veterinarian may prescribe an oral cough suppressant, anti-inflammatory, or an antibiotic to help with infections and symptoms.

How is kennel cough similar in dogs, humans and other animals?

Kennel cough is a common bacterial and/or viral respiratory illness in dogs, cats and other animals and the bacterial form can be transmitted to humans, although it is rare in cats and people. If transmitted, the disease has many similarities.

  • Symptoms include upper respiratory illness such as coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge
  • Secondary infections and pneumonia can result in immune-compromised individuals
  • Supportive care and antibiotics are used for treatment if necessary

How is kennel cough different in dogs, humans and other animals?

  • Dogs are routinely vaccinated for kennel cough as they are most often affected, and they experience a viral component to infection
  • Dogs are more likely to acquire the disease when stressed, and in the presence of several factors, including bacteria and virus occurring in conjunction
  • Humans and cats do not acquire viral canine kennel cough
  • The disease is rare in cats
  • It is uncommon, but possible, for the kennel cough bacteria to result in human infection

Case Study

A few days after receiving live, intranasal bordetella vaccine, which was recommended by the grooming salon where a couple's Cocker Spaniel, Trixie, goes to for grooming, Trixie began sneezing coughing and her nose and eyes began to run. Trixie's energy level was good and she was still eating well. After a call to the veterinarian to report the symptoms, their veterinarian suggested they wait a few days to see if the symptoms progress, or pass, as side effects are possible with the vaccine. Sure enough, after a few days, the symptoms dissipated and Trixie was back to her usual self. No more veterinary follow-up was required.

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