We all want what’s best for our pet. So vaccinations are usually high on that list to give them some much-needed protection against various diseases.

The kennel cough vaccination is one such vaccine that vets offer. It protects against a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica, which contributes towards the most common cause of infectious tracheobronchitis (‘kennel cough’) in dogs. In the UK, this vaccine is given annually, often at the same time as other routine vaccinations. It is administered intra-nasally with the vet squirting it gently up the dog’s nose.

What is kennel cough?

Kennel cough is a non-fatal respiratory infection, affecting the dog’s airways. It can be caused by a few different germs (bacteria and viruses), but the main one involved is Bordetella bronchiseptica.

The most common symptoms of kennel cough are;

  • A retching/hacking cough – some owners describe their dog sounding like there is something stuck in their throat
  • Bringing up bile or phlegm
  • A sensitive throat – tugging on their collar may start a coughing episode
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sneezing, with a runny nose or eyes

The disease is usually self-limiting which means most dogs will recover by themselves, but it can take a couple of weeks. Very occasionally, they may benefit from treatments such as anti-inflammatories or antibiotics. Usually in very young or very old patients at risk from pneumonia. This is different from some of the other viruses we vaccinate for which can cause serious and fatal illness, such as distemper and parvovirus.

Your dog will be infectious to other dog’s during this time and should be stopped from mixing with them if possible.

How could my dog catch kennel cough?

Kennel cough can be spread by direct dog to dog contact, usually through nasal secretions or coughing. So just meeting one other dog for a bit of a sniff and a play could infect your pet. It can also be spread via fomites (objects that are contaminated with nasal secretions or saliva), like sharing bowls and toys. So even if your dog doesn’t directly interact with other dogs it could still pick up the illness this way.

Kennel cough is more rapidly spread in locations where there is a high number of animals interacting in one space. This includes boarding kennels (hence the name!), dog shows and public parks.

Why would my dog need the vaccine if he will recover from the illness?

Vaccinating means our pet doesn’t have to suffer from an illness we could otherwise prevent. The vaccine means that a dog will show no symptoms of kennel cough, or a much milder version, than an unvaccinated dog. Some dogs have quite a severe cough, to the point that they are bringing up bile and phlegm. The cough may interrupt their sleep (and yours!) and generally make them feel under the weather. Similar to a cough or a cold in humans.

If your dog catches kennel cough it is recommended that you keep him away from other dogs during this time. This means no socialising or going to dog sitters and dog walkers. Keeping him on the lead whilst you are exercising would also be advised. Again, this reduces contact any other dogs whilst out and about. This can all be quite disruptive, so vaccination would prevent this from occurring.

Some dogs may also suffer from respiratory conditions more severely than other dogs. Brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short noses and compromised airways), young puppies with less developed immune systems or those with other underlying health conditions. For these individuals, vaccines are even more important.

It is worth noting that many boarding kennels will also require your dog to have had the vaccine before they stay. Given the large volume of dogs they can have at any one time, the illness could spread quite quickly. So vaccination will prevent this from occurring. Contact your local kennels to see if this is a vaccination they would like your dog to have.

When wouldn’t I have my dog vaccinated?

If your dog has a very low risk of catching kennel cough then you may decide not to vaccinate against this disease. Dogs that don’t mix with other dogs at all on walks, don’t go to kennels or don’t go to training or shows, will be at lower risk of catching it.

You may also need to be careful about having your dog vaccinated if you are immunocompromised. It is a live vaccine, which means your dog could shed the bacteria for a while after the vaccination. So care should be taken with owners that have poor immune systems (certain illnesses, chemotherapy, pregnancy etc).


Even though kennel cough is usually non-fatal, it can be quite a nuisance for us and our pet. You will need to come to a view about your own dog’s risk factors when deciding whether or not to vaccinate against the disease. In terms of any safety concerns though, rest assured that all the vaccinations your vet recommends for your pet are rigorously tested. If you are unsure about what is best for your pet then speak to your veterinary surgeon who will be able to advise you further.

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