Kennel Cough Vaccine: What Are the Risks?
I have a question for you. Would you vaccinate a 16-year-old dog with heart disease and a recent diagnosis of a malignant lump?
Until a few days ago, I thought no veterinarian would. However, my bubble was burst during a phone call with my friend from London. She asked me if I could help her 16-year-old Jack Russell Rocky who was recently diagnosed with a mast cell tumor. As I was collecting the medical history, we started talking about vaccines. I only asked casually because I assumed no vet would vaccinate a senior dog. I was wrong.
The news that Rocky has been vaccinated yearly hit me like a ton of bricks because the vaccine label say that animals that are ill should not be vaccinated. After few seconds of disbelief I decided to write this article because, obviously, the discussion must go on.
Over the years, I have witnessed many with a very unreasonable fear of kennel cough, mainly due to fear-based advertising that depicts kennel cough as some sort of horrible disease.
The Merck Veterinary manual says kennel cough is a mild self-limiting disease that results in inflammation of the upper airways transmitted by air… This condition would rarely lead to complications or death…
“Infectious tracheobronchitis is a mild self-limiting disease that results in inflammation of the upper airways transmitted by air and caused possibly but not surely by several different viruses, mainly Parainfluenza virus and also by a bacteria – Bordetella Bronchiseptica, however, the exact cause may vary.”
The Merck Veterinary Manual also states:
“This condition would rarely lead to complications or death only in animals with a weakened immune system. In summary, kennel cough is not much different than a cold that most of us catch from time to time and cure by rest and tea.”
Despite the fact that kennel cough is nothing more than a dog version of a cold, most boarding facilities, daycares, training centers and grooming facilities request dogs using their services have the kennel cough vaccine. They often mean well, but they are mainly frightened of being held liable for a dog getting kennel cough.
Books are theory, but what about in real life veterinary practice? In more than 20 years in clinical practice, I have not seen one single dog succumb to kennel cough and as the Merck manual says, most dogs recover on their own without the use of any antibiotics. The risk of a dog dying of kennel cough is not any different than of a person dying of a common cold or flu.
More than 15 years back, I too used to use kennel cough vaccine because I didn’t know any better. I remember seeing absolutely healthy dogs getting kennel cough vaccine and coming back a few days later with actual symptoms of the disease. When I called the vaccine rep, his response was that these dogs must have been exposed prior to vaccination. I later realized that the live modified vaccine was the likely reason. For your interest, this is what the British medical safety data sheet for Nobivac KC vaccine states:
“Contraindications, warnings: Particularly in very young susceptible puppies, mild discharges from the eyes and nose can occur from the day after vaccination, sometimes accompanied by sneezing and coughing. Signs are generally transient, but in occasional cases may persist for up to four weeks. In animals, which show more severe signs, appropriate antibiotic treatment may be indicated.
To me, this statement clearly says that the vaccine can cause the disease.
A few practical suggestions what to do
DAY CARE, DOG WALKING, GROOMING, BOARDING AND TRAINING FACILITIES
1. If you are an owner of a boarding, grooming or daycare facility, you are likely concerned about liability.
2. I suggest you create a simple waiver that your clients can sign at admission.
3. Stop requesting kennel cough vaccine because by doing so you may be spreading kennel cough itself.
4. Ensure good hygiene and air quality in your facility.
5. Avoid overcrowding and strive to create a happy and relaxed atmosphere in your facility.
6. Download and print a copy of this article for your clients to read to educate them here.
FOR DOG GUARDIANS
Remember that the Merck Veterinary Manual says that kennel cough is a mild self-limiting disease.
- Avoid the kennel cough vaccination if possible no matter what age your dog is.
- If a service provider you use requests a kennel cough vaccine, share this information with them and be willing to sign a waiver.
- Make sure that your dog’s immune system is in top-notch condition. The best way to achieve this is to feed high-quality, all-natural raw food and adding essential supplements to make your dog's immune system stronger.
- Avoid carbohydrate-based and processed foods, milk products and wheat that can compromise the immune system.
- Look for well-aired, clean facilities that are not overcrowded and your dog likes to visit
- If your dog gets kennel cough make sure that your dogs rests in comfort.
- To reduce cough symptoms, you can administer homeopathic remedy Spongia 30C or 200C (can be also listed as CH) 2-3 daily until symptoms subside is the treatment of choice.
Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM
PS: If you are looking for my general recommendations about vaccinations, click here.