Kennel cough (and what the Bordetella vaccine does)

October 7, 2023 - 4 min read
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Reputable boarding kennels and dog daycare will ask for proof that your dog’s been vaccinated against kennel cough, that is to say, been given a Bordetella vaccine, before you send them. But what is the vaccine, and how does kennel cough actually work? Here's what to know.

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is an upper respiratory tract infection in dogs that surfaces with a hallmark hacking cough. More serious complications are rare. However, kennel cough can progress to the lungs and cause pneumonia, which can be serious.

Signs and symptoms of kennel cough in dogs

Kennel cough can cause a nasty hacking cough, as if your dog is trying to clear a bone from their throat.

The main symptoms of kennel cough are:

  • Anorexia (not eating)

  • Hacking cough

  • Fever

  • Lethargy

Some dogs may even develop a fever and become anorexic.

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How infectious is kennel cough in dogs?

Kennel cough is very easily spread between dogs. When your dog is infected, they’re shedding the virus, and you can carry it on your clothing and shoes.

"[Kennel cough is] highly contagious,” says vet Sophie Bell. "Be sure to keep [your infected dog] away from other dogs, and if you need a vet visit, wait outside the clinic until the vet is ready for you.”

How long does kennel cough last?

Kennel cough symptoms can last for a few weeks. The cough can carry on for quite a while, although your dog may be otherwise well by themselves.

You shouldn’t walk their dog while they have initial symptoms. It won’t help their recovery, and they can be infectious to other dogs. You can take them for walks again once their symptoms ease, but you should stay away from other dogs for two to three weeks as they may still be shedding the virus.

They’ll probably find a harness more comfortable than a collar. A collar could rub on their neck and irritate their trachea, which could mean that their kennel cough recovery takes longer.

Home remedies for kennel cough (and when to see your vet)

Your dog needs rest and care to help them recover. Most dogs will recover from kennel cough without needing treatment from a vet. Here's how to treat them at home:

  • Make sure they have plenty of rest

  • Offer tasty, smelly foods if they’re not eager to eat

  • Give some honey with warm water, as it can help soothe the throat and ease the cough

You must always get your dog checked by a vet if they seem unwell, stop eating, or their breathing becomes labored, rapid, or both. These are signs that the condition may be worsening.

If your dog does need to see the vet, they may prescribe an antibiotic, cough medicine, or anti-inflammatory medications to make your dog more comfortable.

What is the Bordetella vaccine, and how does it work?

The Bordetella vaccine is administered to protect against Bordetella bronchiseptica, a bacterium that can cause respiratory disease in dogs, commonly known as "kennel cough."

There are different forms of the Bordetella vaccine, including injectable, oral, and nasal spray versions. The vaccine helps to minimize the severity of kennel cough, reduce symptoms, and prevent the spread of the disease to other dogs.

Dogs occasionally show mild symptoms after a kennel cough booster, like a human cold.

“It’s important to note that the virus is shed at a very weak level for up to 35 days from their nose and mouth and up to 70 days in feces,” says vet Sophie Bell. “So be mindful when mixing with other dogs, and always clear poop up immediately.”

How much does the Bordetella vaccine cost?

The Bordetella vaccine generally costs between $28 and $35, although this may vary by clinic. It also doesn't include exam fees.

(Hint: ManyPet's non-insurance wellness plan may help cover the cost of this vaccine!)

Can a Bordetella-vaccinated dog still get kennel cough?

If your vaccinated dog has started to cough, could they still have caught kennel cough somehow?

Unfortunately yes. The Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine protects our dogs against several, but not all, strains of kennel cough.

Other bacteria and viruses can cause kennel cough, so your dog can still catch it despite being vaccinated.

So, is there any point in getting the Bordetella vaccine?

Absolutely. Even though the Bordetella vaccine doesn’t offer 100% immunity from all strains, it’ll still help protect your dog if they’re regularly mixing with other dogs in a kennel environment. In fact, many kennels, groomers, and doggy daycares won't accept your dog without proof of Bordetella vaccination. So it’s definitely well worth it, and you should also be keeping up with those boosters.

“Although the vaccine does not cover all strains, it still protects them and is especially important for dogs with underlying heart or respiratory issues. It can also make the symptoms milder,” says veterinary surgeon Dr. Sophie Bell.

The kennel cough vaccine, or Bordetella vaccine, protects your dog against the most common bacteria causing kennel cough, Bordetella bronchiseptica. They’ll also have some protection from their other vaccinations because the infections they protect against, like parvo and distemper, can also cause kennel cough.

The bottom line

Kennel cough is often a temporary nuisance that can be managed with rest and home care. But occasionally it morphs into a more serious condition that requires vet care, like pneumonia.

The Bordetella vaccine, while not an absolute safeguard, helps shield pups from several strains and mitigates symptoms when they do get ill.

Keep your pup happy and healthy by getting them vaccinated. And consider buying dog insurance to get reimbursed for accidents and illnesses in the future.

Derri Dunn
Content marketer

Derri is a personal finance and insurance writer and editor. After seven years covering all things motoring and banking at GoCompare, Derri joined ManyPets in 2021 to focus on pet health. She has fostered cats and kittens for Blue Cross and Cats Protection and is owned by tabby cat Diggory and two badly behaved dogs.