by Dr. Douglas Kramer, founder of VetGuru Inc

What is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is caused by a microscopic bacterial organism called Bordetella bronchiseptica that can infect dogs, cats and many other species. It is a respiratory pathogen with hundreds of different strains known to exist. (This helps to explain why the bordetella vaccination is NOT 100% protective!) Transmission occurs primarily through direct contact with infected animals or the secretions of infected animals. Bordetella also poses a risk as it becomes an airborne pathogen capable of infecting other animals in an enclosed space such as a room. Recent evidence suggests that interspecies transmission probably occurs and infection rates are higher in cats exposed to infected dogs.

Bordetella bacteria damage the lining of the respiratory tract and make it more susceptible to attack by other secondary organisms such as viruses, other bacteria, Mycoplasma and Chlamydia. Even humans can be infected with bordetella although evidence of transmission from pets to people is highly circumstantial.

Kennel Cough Symptoms

  • Coughing – Dry (“non-productive”) or moist (Phlegm)
  • Crackles
  • Wheezing
  • Respiratory Distress
  • Nasal Discharge (Discharge from the Nostrils)
  • Ocular Discharge (Discharge from the eyes)
  • Coughing when light pressure is applied to the neck and throat area (ex: during walks with a collar or “choke chain”)
  • Sneezing

How to Treat Kennel Cough

  • Mild disease is often self-limiting, and may require only isolation of the cat and supportive care.
  • Antibiotics – Indicated for dogs and cats with moderate to severe upper respiratory signs, or who are systemically ill. The most commonly used antibiotics are Amoxicillin/clavulanate and Doxycycline.

Kennel Cough Prevention

  • Kennel Cough Vaccine – Two forms are currently available: an injectable bordetella vaccination and nasal drops.
  • Proper ventilation – This applies more to boarding and grooming facilities. Proper ventilation is essential to help control all airborne and aerosolized pathogens such as bordetella.
  • Rigid Sanitation Program – Bleach (5.6% Sodium hypochlorite): dilute one part of bleach to 32 parts water making a mixture that  is the best agent for disinfecting contaminated utensils, hard surfaces and the premises.

Bordetella Vaccination – Intranasal, Injection or Oral Vaccine?

What are the benefits of Intranasal vaccination?

Most veterinary experts believe that local nasal immunization confers the best and fastest  immunity.

What are the benefits of subcutaneous vaccination?

The biggest benefit is ease of administration. Patient compliance (tolerance) of the procedure is better, and there are less side-effects (runny nose etc). Patients tend to hate receiving the drops of liquid into their nostrils and will often resist administration of the nasal bordetella vaccination.

The newest player in the bordetella vaccine game:

Boehringer Ingelheim  recently received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for an oral vaccine called “Bronchi-Shield Oral” that aids in the protection against the primary pathogen of canine infectious respiratory disease in dogs. Administration requires veterinarians to instill a 1.0 mL dose into the buccal cavity of healthy dogs eight weeks of age or older, and the company recommends annual revaccination.

What are the down-sides to each?

The biggest negative factors for intranasal vaccination are the difficulty of administration in some patients and the potential mild side effects (sneezing, serous nasal discharge). The biggest concern about systemic injectable vaccines is the concern of less effective protection.

What is the duration of immunity and protection with these vaccines?

Duration of immunity studies are limited and actual; concrete data is hard to find. Currently, we believe that these bordetella vaccines confer immunity for 3-6 months.

Are the bordetella vaccines 100% protective?

No, none of the Bordetella vaccines are 100% protective. New and different strains of Bordetella bronchiseptica are emerging which evade the immune response provided by current vaccines. Animals that are vaccinated can and do become infected by the bordetella vaccination. This is why the vaccination is generally considered a “non-core vaccine” by the AVMA and other veterinary authorities. Think of it on the same level as the flu shots that humans often receive; they only protect humans from certain strains but NOT all of them. Humans that have received the flu shot can still become sick if they are exposed to a strain that is not covered by the particular vaccination that year. In other words, the human flu shot is also not 100% protective.


Vet Guru Inc was founded by veterinarian Dr. Douglas Kramer in 2006 to research and develop innovative pet products based on herbal and holistic formulations. The focus of the company primarily lies in incorporating natural therapeutics into novel delivery systems that make administration to pets more effective and convenient. Dr. Kramer and Vet Guru recently introduced “rapid dissolve pet strips”;  a new and exciting therapeutic delivery system for pets.

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