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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice October 2013 Issue

Dear Doctor - Choosing a kennel cough vaccine

Letter to Tufts Veterinarians

Q I own a two-year-old Labrador retriever who was recently due for his bordetella booster. Last year he was given the injectable vaccine. This year I was told that the gold standard was to alternate: one year injectable vaccine, the next, vaccine administration via nasal drops. I’ve also read articles promoting just one or the other. Which vaccine route do you recommend?
Anne Birne
Scottsdale, Arizona

Dear Ms. Birne,
A First, please be aware that not all dogs require the vaccine against bordetella bacteria, which cause an upper airway infection commonly known as kennel cough. In a normal, healthy adult dog, which we presume yours is, kennel cough, while very unpleasant, is simply a hacking cough that resolves on its own in three to five days. Furthermore, a dog living in a household and never boarded is at minimal risk.

But dogs that are boarded occasionally or go to doggie day care or for regular grooming with other dogs around are at increased risk, and owners may find the vaccine good insurance (and many facilities that take care of several dogs at once require it, anyway). Very young puppies are also at increased risk because for them, kennel cough can turn into life-threatening pneumonia. The risk becomes all the greater for puppies living in crowded situations in puppy mills.

As far as whether the injectable vaccine or nasal drops are best, both work well, providing protection for up to one year — except in very high-risk situations, where they may be given every six months. The two work a little differently — the nasal vaccine provides immunity to the upper respiratory tract, and the injection gives protection in the lung. But the clinical effect is virtually the same.

We are not aware of any studies demonstrating a benefit from using one type of vaccine one year and another the next, although there is some evidence that when taken together, protection may be better than when either type of vaccine is used alone. Such an approach may be required for puppies at high risk of infection but is not necessary for adult dogs. Note that although the nasal vaccine is thought to provide protection within 72 hours following administration, it is advised to use either vaccine at least five days before risk of exposure occurs — say, five days before you’re going to board your dog.

Note, too, that the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, in part because it only protects against kennel cough brought about by certain types of organisms that can cause it — including Bordetella bronchiseptica, which is highly contagious. But even so, it may help shorten the course of illness from any source and will generally lessen the severity of the disease in any dog who gets it.

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