Does Your Dog Need the Kennel Cough Vaccine?

by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein


Kennel cough, the common name referring to Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease, is caused by one or more types of bacteria and viruses in the respiratory tract and is easily transmitted between dogs. An in-depth discussion of kennel cough and its transmission and treatment can be found here.


Unlike rabies, the disease is very rarely severe (let alone fatal) and vaccination is a personal decision. The decision to vaccinate should be based on your dog’s risk, and risk is based on the likelihood of close contact with other dogs or contaminated material.


Which Dogs Should Get the Kennel Cough Vaccine?


Any dog who routinely comes into close contact with other dogs should be vaccinated. Kennel cough is spread like the common cold in humans, most often as airborne particles or on contaminated material. Dogs should especially be vaccinated if the contact is indoors, such as at a boarding or daycare facility. It just takes one ill dog to infect the whole crowd. It is worth protecting your dog if you are frequent dog park visitors, too. Dogs who compete in shows or sport and those who are service dogs should also be vaccinated.


There’s one primary question pet parents should ask themselves to determine whether or not their dog is at risk for contracting kennel cough: “does my dog come into contact with other dogs?”


If the answer is “yes,” then your pet would benefit from being vaccinated. However, secondary questions include “does my dog have any underlying medical conditions that make it unsafe to vaccinate him?” and “does he currently have a respiratory infection?” If the answers to these are “no” or if you are unsure, then talk to your veterinarian about updating your dog’s vaccines.


Are Some Dogs More Susceptible to Kennel Cough Than Others?


Puppies’ immune systems are not at full strength and this puts them at higher risk of becoming infected until at least 6 months of age.


Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dog breeds are also at an increased risk of developing respiratory disease but are not necessarily at higher risk of catching kennel cough than other breeds. Their narrow noses and trachea and thickened tissue in their mouth make them more likely to develop an infection if they are exposed to the bacteria or viruses.


Other dogs with compromised immune systems, such as those who are pregnant or with certain chronic diseases, may also be more susceptible and caution should be taken.


How Often Do Dogs Need Kennel Cough Vaccinations?


Frequency depends on the type of vaccine, so talk to your veterinarian about how long your dog’s vaccine will last. Some vaccines protect dogs for six months while others are good for a full year. There are also multiple routes of vaccination. Intranasal vaccines do not require a booster series in the first year, while injectable vaccines should be given as a booster series (two doses given three to four weeks apart) the first time your dog is vaccinated. This is meant to strengthen immunity quickly.


If your dog is not current on his or her vaccine, it is recommended to vaccinate at least five to ten days prior to boarding or other situations putting them in close contact with other dogs.  Some boarding facilities may require a booster (re-vaccination) prior to the dog’s stay.


The kennel cough vaccine is low risk for animals who have previously been vaccinated without side effects. The main risk of the vaccine is the dog developing a mild case of kennel cough.


Any dog who has previously had a severe reaction to the vaccine should not be vaccinated, and those who had a minor reaction should be vaccinated with caution. Dogs who have nasal, sinus or upper respiratory disease should also not be vaccinated until their illness is resolved. Similarly, dogs currently on antibiotics should be allowed to finish the full course of treatment before vaccination.


How Likely is the Vaccine to Prevent Kennel Cough?

Like the human flu vaccine, the kennel cough vaccine does not prevent illness, it reduces the likelihood and severity of the illness. The vaccine makes it more likely that your dog will recover on his own if he gets sick without the need for veterinary intervention


Occasionally, dogs will develop a mild version of kennel cough shortly after vaccination (two to seven days). This is less likely in dogs who have already built up immunity from either previous vaccination or exposure.


It is important to distinguish between kennel cough, similar to the common cold, and the canine flu, which can be much more severe but is less prevalent. The canine flu vaccination is a separate vaccine and you should ask your veterinarian if the flu has been found in your area to help determine whether your dog is at risk. It is advisable to vaccinate your dog against the flu if it has been detected in your area and your dog is exposed to other dogs.