Vail Daily column: No kennel needed to catch kennel cough |

Vail Daily column: No kennel needed to catch kennel cough

Stephen Sheldon
Pet Talk
Vail, CO Colorado

Kennel cough is one of the most common and contagious diseases of dogs. It is also one of the more controversial dog diseases, both in its’ scope of being understood by the public and in the way veterinarians treat and prevent it.

Kennel cough is also called Infectious Tracheobronchitis (ITB). ITB is caused by being exposed to a very common bacteria, Bordetella bronchispetica, or an equally common parainfluenza virus. It can occur in both adult dogs and puppies. Unfortunately, many people think only dogs that spend time in a kennel can catch it, which isn’t the case.

First lets look at the disease itself. ITB usually causes mild to moderate coughing and upper respiratory symptoms in dogs. It can develop into serious pneumonia but this rarely occurs. It is almost never fatal. The bacteria that causes it has special stuff on its surface that makes it stick to the lining of respiratory cells.

Treatment is fairly simple and straightforward: Antibiotics for the bacteria and cough suppressants for the cough. Even though it is often deemed a “self-limiting” disease, i.e. one that will go away by itself, almost all veterinarians I know prescribe antibiotics. It is thought that they speed up the healing process. I can already hear my phone ringing from holistic vets calling to voice disapproval of that last sentence. I am still prescribing antibiotics.

The real controversy surrounding the disease is how to prevent it and who needs prevention. I couldn’t wait to broach this topic. I tell my clients ITB is ironic because it is by far the disease your dog is most likely to be exposed to, but also the least harmful of any disease we vaccinate against. We hear so often: “I don’t board my dog; he doesn’t need it.”

However, in my opinion, any dog whose nose comes anywhere near any other dogs nose should get the vaccine. A $20 vaccine can prevent a sick dog, save you a few hundred dollars in vet bills, and keep a houseful of other dogs healthy. It is that contagious.

There is also controversy about which vaccine to use and how often to use it. Both the injection and the intra-nasal (IN) vaccine work well. However, the IN seems to work better and definitely works faster. Don’t believe me? Here is a quote from a University of Tennessee virologist: “The intra-nasal is better at stimulating local immunity; I prefer it.”

We only really use the injectable vaccine in very difficult dogs.

The next question is how often to vaccinate? All experts I have read also say it is only necessary once a year. Nonetheless, some kennels and hospitals require it twice a year. I think they need to back that up with evidence. Here is mine from a 2008 study published in “Veterinary Therapeutics” winter 2008 edition: “The results demonstrate that intra-nasal administration of a single dose vaccine … provides one year of protection against Bordetella.”

So there you have it. The bottom line with kennel cough is you should have your dog vaccinated once a year whether or not they spend time in a kennel.

Veterinarian Stephen Sheldon practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached at 970-524-3647 or visit

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