Can My Dog Get Kennel Cough Even If Vaccinated?

The kennel cough vaccine can sometimes fail to protect your dog.
i Sad Dog image by Arthur Caranta from

You know your dog was vaccinated for kennel cough, but now he's showing symptoms that look suspiciously like that very infection. Is that possible? In fact, it is possible for your dog to show signs of kennel cough -- to even get the illness -- despite the vaccination.

Kennel Cough and the Available Vaccines

Kennel cough is a highly contagious canine respiratory infection of the trachea and bronchi caused by a virus (adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, canine distemper virus) or bacterium (Bordetella bronchiseptica). Symptoms usually include those typical of an upper respiratory infection, like red and irritated eyes, a runny nose and sneezing. The main symptom, however, is a dry, hacking cough -- often sounding disturbingly like a honk -- occasionally followed by retching. If your dog regularly comes into contact with a lot of different dogs, your vet may recommend a kennel cough (or bordetella) vaccine, available as an injection or in the more effective intranasal form (in other words, it's sprayed up his nose).

"When" Matters

If your dog recently received a kennel cough vaccination and is now showing cold-like symptoms or coughing, he might simply be experiencing some vaccine side effects. It's not unusual for a dog to have mild sneezing, watery eyes and a runny nose after getting the vaccination, particularly common with the intranasal vaccines. Some dogs may even get a mild hacking cough several days after the vaccination, which could last as long as two weeks.

On the other hand, if your dog received the vaccination quite some time ago and he's showing symptoms, he might actually have kennel cough. The bordetella vaccine's protection typically only lasts up to a year at the most. If the vaccine's protection was no longer effective and your dog was exposed to the infection, he could have contracted the illness.

A Stealthy Strike?

There's always the chance your dog already had the infection when he received the vaccination but was not yet showing symptoms. Kennel cough can take three to 10 days to appear once your dog has contracted it, and if the infection was already in his system, the vaccine would not have stopped it. Another possibility to consider is that your dog contracted the infection after he received the vaccination but before it could generate the protective immune response. Immunity with the intranasal vaccine usually takes three to five days, for example, so if your dog came into contact with the infection during that time period, it's possible he has kennel cough.

The Problem With Pathogens

Vaccines for contagious respiratory diseases like kennel cough are never considered completely effective in preventing infection. This is because the pathogens responsible are constantly mutating and changing. Much like the human flu vaccine, the kennel cough vaccine protects the patient only from the currently recognized strains and can't account for any new types that have recently appeared. So if your dog was exposed to a strain that was not a part of the vaccine he received, he may very well have the infection.

The Problem With People

Veterinarians are people, and though it's not common, they can make mistakes. If a vaccine wasn't stored properly, for example, if its expiration date had passed or if was prepared ahead of time but left sitting too long, it may no longer have been effective, leaving your dog vulnerable to infection. The route of the vaccine is also important. If your vet injected your dog with a vaccine intended for intranasal use or, conversely, sprayed a vaccine into your dog's nose that was supposed to be injected, it's possible your dog was not adequately protected and now has kennel cough.

The Bad News and the Good

The bad news is that even when you take precautions, many dogs will get kennel cough at some point. And if your dog is very old, very young or pregnant, the symptoms can be more severe and complications such as pneumonia can arise. To be safe, take your dog to the vet if you suspect he has kennel cough, no matter his age or condition. You'll also want your vet to make sure that kennel cough -- not another, more serious matter -- is causing the symptoms.

The good news is that most of the time the infection is not as bad as that horrible honking cough makes it sound and, much like the common cold in humans, it will simply need to run its course. Often there's no need for antibiotics, although your vet may prescribe an anti-inflammatory to calm your dog's coughing and make him more comfortable. Before long, he'll be back to himself.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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