You took your dog to the vet for an annual check-up and they received all the vaccines that were recommended – including the Bordetella vaccine for kennel cough. Your dog boards at a kennel when you are away, and goes to the grooming salon regularly and these establishments require kennel cough vaccinations. But your dog still has developed a terrible hacking cough! Is it kennel cough?
Unfortunately, your dogs can develop kennel cough even if they were vaccinated. This seems patently unfair, you did everything you could to keep your dog healthy. Fortunately, kennel cough is not usually a serious illness and your dog should make a full, and uneventful recovery. Kennel cough is not dissimilar to a chest cold in humans. It is a respiratory infection that develops as a result of exposure to the kennel cough bacteria, which dogs are commonly exposed to, and is present in many environments. The illness often occurs when your dog’s immune system is compromised and/or a virus occurs in conjunction with it. Usually, the presence of both the parainfluenza virus and the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common trigger for kennel cough in your dog.
The combination of factors involved make the condition hard to vaccinate for, as multiple viruses can contribute to the development of illness and the bacteria is widely distributed and accessible. Also, the vaccine is only effective for about 6 months, so annual vaccines do not provide adequate coverage. If the vaccine was not adequately stored or properly administered, it may also prove ineffective. Dogs with compromised immune systems or dogs that were exposed to kennel cough before receiving the vaccine may develop the illness in spite of vaccination. The good news is, the condition will usually resolve on its own, or if it becomes severe, medication can help fight bacterial infection and cough symptoms. Kennel cough is very contagious and your dog can acquire it or pass it on easily from other dogs, so they should be isolated from other dogs while infected.
- Compromised immune system, as is often present when a dog is in an unfamiliar environment such as a boarding kennel
- Having been exposed to the virus shortly before vaccination
- Improper storage of vaccine prior to administration
- Improper administration of vaccine
- Vaccine wearing off after 6 months
- The presence of viruses that weaken your dog's immune system, causing them to be susceptible to the bordetella bacteria in spite of vaccination
- A viral cause to respiratory illness, independent of Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria
- Environmental factors such as smoke, dust, exposure to cold, that weaken your dog's immune system and cause irritation of airways that bacteria is likely to affect
Because a combination of factors makes your dog susceptible to kennel cough, there is no one vaccine that can protect your dog from different viruses, bacterial infections, and immune compromising factors that may be present. The result is that your dog can contract kennel cough in spite of being vaccinated. The vaccine does reduce the chance of incidence and may decrease the severity of the illness once contracted.
If your dog develops the following symptoms, especially after being exposed to other dogs, they may have kennel cough:
- Inflammation of the windpipe
- Red, irritated eyes
- Nasal discharge
- Dry hacking cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Use a harness instead of a collar, which can trigger coughing by putting pressure on the trachea
- Humidify the air in your home-- a steam shower may be effective
- Support your dog's immune system with supplements such as echinacea and vitamin C and provide a high protein diet
- Honey may help reduce coughing
- Inflammation of the respiratory tract
- Nasal and eye discharge
- Vaccines for respiratory flus are available for people also and, like in dogs, vaccinations do not always prevent infection with the illness
A family going on vacation leaves their pet Labrador Retriever, Max, at a kennel for the week. They diligently make sure he has been vaccinated for kennel cough prior to his visit, as per the kennel’s instructions. However, a few days after picking Max up and returning home, Max starts coughing. It is a loud, honking cough and his eyes and nose are also running. Max is still eating and drinking and is relatively active, although he has slowed down a bit. A trip to the vet reveals that Max has contracted kennel cough in spite of being vaccinated. The veterinarian suggests that since Max becomes extremely anxious when separated from his family the stress may have reduced his ability to fight off infections. This, along with the length of time since his last Bordetella vaccination, and a strong viral component that the vaccine was unable to counteract, contributed to his developing kennel cough, in spite of being vaccinated. With some cough suppressant and rest, Max recovered uneventfully in a few weeks.