We’ve talked about vaccination already this month; and one of the most common questions we get is “If I don’t board my dog, why do I need to vaccinate against kennel cough?”. Probably the second most common is “But my dog is vaccinated, why does she have kennel cough?”

Kennel cough is more properly known as “canine cough”. The old name “kennel cough” came from the fact that the disease is more easily transmitted at boarding kennels where dogs come into close contact with one another, but it’s not the only place it can be picked up. Canine cough is spread through aerosols – coming into contact with the fine droplets of water that a dog with the disease coughs up. The park, the groomer, doggy daycare, puddles, water bowls, and even a shared street during a walk outdoors can all be areas where your dog could pick up canine cough.

Canine cough is a complicated disease. It’s not caused by just one organism, but by two: canine parainfluenza virus and the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. Bordetella bronchiseptica is found in the nasal passages of healthy dogs; a dog needs to be infected by the parainfluenza virus first and have its immune system distracted enough that the bacteria can spread and cause the characteristic honking cough. Bordetella bronchiseptica is actually distantly related to the bacteria that causes whooping cough in humans – though it’s not spread between dog and person!

In a healthy young dog, canine cough doesn’t present much of an issue beyond a very annoying cough and perhaps making your dog feel a bit miserable. However in very young dogs, very old dogs, or dogs with diseases that affect their immune systems, canine cough can be quite nasty and may progress to pneumonia. Vaccination is essential to limit the spread of canine cough, and to protect against the nastiest strains; though it’s important to know that even vaccinated dogs can still develop the milder strains of kennel cough.