What exactly is Kennel Cough?
To understand what’s going on with how the vaccine works, let’s look at what the kennel cough illness is. In the kennel cough complex, a dog is first infected with a virus, begins coughing, the back of his throat becomes sore and raw from the cough, and the bacteria that normally live in the throat use the opportunity to invade and make the dog more sick.
It’s a little bit like Thanksgiving dinner: we eat too much, which is the virus, and feel pretty full. Then, dessert comes, and we eat more; this is the bacteria overwhelming the immune system. If we had stopped with just dinner, then it would’ve been okay. This means if your dog is only infected with the virus, everything will be okay.
It’s when the bacteria invade that she becomes sick – this is what we treat at the vets office -the bacterial infection. Too much pie and the immune system can’t handle it, and your dog gets pneumonia from a kennel cough infection.
Research has shown that if dogs are given the intranasal kennel cough vaccine when they enter a shelter, they have less clinical signs. What this means is if they get kennel cough, they do not get as sick as if they didn’t have the vaccine.
Therefore, it is very common practice for most shelters to give a dog a dose of the kennel cough vaccine upon entry into the shelter. Simply because of the nature of a shelter, many dogs in small spaces with lots of stress coming and going, it is common to have kennel cough at animal shelters. It’s not that the shelter is doing anything wrong, it’s simply the nature of the rescue world. This means that it’s very common for dogs adopted from shelters to either have had kennel cough while at the shelter, or to go home with kennel cough.
As already mentioned, as long as the bacteria never invade, then the dog never really gets sick. However, the dog is still infectious with the virus to other dogs up to three months later. This means don’t go playing with other dogs outside of the home for two or three months after you bring your new dog home when your dog has kennel cough.
What about the Kennel Cough Vaccine?
The final piece of the puzzle is understanding how vaccines work. The most effective vaccines are against viruses; vaccines against bacteria tend not to be as effective. Most kennel cough vaccines offer a combination of antiviral and antibacterial properties, but again, they tend to work best against the viral part of the kennel cough complex.
Because the most effective kennel cough vaccines are given in the nose, they tend to work quite rapidly; injectable vaccines can take three weeks for the immune system respond, intranasal vaccines work in days. When a dog goes into a shelter and is given the vaccine, the timer starts ticking for which will come first – the actual virus, or the modified virus in the vaccine. This is how your new puppy was given a kennel cough vaccine, but came home with the actual kennel cough illness.
Because kennel cough is such a contagious illness, a lot like the flu in humans, most groomers, and boarding kennels required dogs receive the kennel cough vaccine every 6 to 12 months.
There is, however, controversy about the kennel cough vaccine. There are some dogs who have contracted the illness from the vaccine. These dogs display the characteristic cough, (which sounds more like cough, cough, gag) but have not been exposed to anyone that could have given them the virus. Just as in cases of naturally contracted kennel cough, these dogs must work through the virus, just as we work through our flu, and hope that the throat does not become raw and bacteria do not invade.
Fortunately, kennel cough is a highly treatable illness. Most veterinarians prescribe antibiotics when they treat a dog with kennel cough. Integrative veterinarians, such as myself, also prescribe herbal antiviral medication. By reducing the amount of time a dog deals with the virus, the dog is less likely to experience the secondary bacterial infection that happens with a very raw throat.
The good news for your new puppy is that you adopted it, and you recognize that it has kennel cough, and you are seeking treatment. In two to three months, when the chances of passing on kennel cough is done, get your puppy all the great exposure to the world, and have lots of fun!