I know it’s an ugly word… well, really two words. Kennel cough isn’t fun. If your dog has ever had it, then you know that harsh wheezing sound they make for a couple weeks. It’ll haunt you in your sleep. And then there is what they cough or throw up on the carpet. Needless to say, no one wants it in their home.
Now, this isn’t meant to scare you about the terrible scourge, because in truth, that cough is the extent of it in most dogs and it will eventually just go away with no lasting effects; the exception being young puppies and older dogs. In fact, it’s very rare that a vet will even want to see a dog with kennel cough, nor can they do much about it beyond something to reduce the irritation on your dog’s throat.
What is kennel cough?
The problem with kennel cough, is most people’s understanding of it. Many people think they can simply get their pups vaccinated and it will act like a shield they can run through hell with. Sadly, that isn’t the case. In fact, the kennel cough vaccine is often ill-defined by many people, including some vets. It’s something we should all understand better.
Just like the common cold in humans, kennel cough has many causes. One of the most common is a bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica m–.
The vaccine, often referred to as Bordetella, addresses only this one cause, leaving nothing to combat the many other causes of kennel cough. With that in mind, the vaccine doesn’t give your pup immunity from that single cause either. It only gives a chance of reduction in symptoms. That means if your dog catches kennel cough then it could still have the same level of the illness as a dog that was never vaccinated. Conversely, it may fight it off sufficiently that everything works out well. It’s all about probability with no guarantee.
It’s not Immunity.
The important thing to note is that it isn’t a personal shield and we still all need to be mindful of where we let our pups play. Dog parks are one of the worst offenders as you have no idea who your pup is playing with, vaccinated or not.
It doesn’t end there however as some of the other causes include poorly ventilated kennels or shelters, hence the reason why it’s called kennel cough, as well as exposure to excessive cold, dust, and stress.
To Vaccinate or not?
As kennel cough is a complex situation, many kennels will require a dog that’s boarding to have the vaccine. We however recognize two important factors when it comes to kennel cough. The first is the lack of immunity that it provides. We don’t want people to feel like they have an immunity so they can take unwarranted risks like going to dog parks.
While my suggestion is always to consult your vet as to whether it is the right thing for your pet, we do require at least ten days before coming to the kennel after getting the vaccination. Additionally, unlike DHPP and Rabies, one form of the Bordetella vaccine, the intra-nasal spray, is a modified live version which can cause a mucosal reaction, a reaction that’s almost indistinguishable from kennel cough itself.
Simply put, if we let in a dog that was just vaccinated, we can’t tell if their cough is illness or reaction. We can’t knowingly risk our other guests going home with that irritating cough, cough, cough.
Getting the right care
So, how do you as a boarding client know that you have the best chances of keeping your pets safe, even if kennel cough is going through the community?
In our case, we have three primary security measures.
The first as I mentioned earlier is regarding ventilation.
Are dogs nose to nose in the kennel environment? Is there forced air heating and cooling? Each of our rooms is independent of the others and has indoor/outdoor access which offers fresh air. Cages on the other hand offer poor ventilation.
The second comes down to the cleaning regiment before and during an outbreak.
Ask your kennel what their cleaning regiment is? Do they use standard disinfectant, dreadful bleach products which can be caustic to your dog’s lungs or worse, vinegar which doesn’t properly clean anything?
Usually, a simple smell test will help answer this question when you go for a tour. Can you smell bleach? Urine? Or masking aromas that will easily trick our paltry sense of smell, but not the supersniffers that our dogs have.
Of course, asking what happens to the cleaning protocol during an outbreak is a fair question. Let me tell you a little secret. Kennel cough coming into a kennel isn’t the kennel’s fault. Every kennel that exists likely has had it and if they tell you they’ve never had it or that it would never come into their system then they aren’t being truthful.
A kennel must have a plan to ensure proper hand, clothing, and footwear washing protocols as well as thoroughly disinfecting the entire facility if there is even a risk of it being present. It is a very laborious process, but one a kennel must be prepared for.
Finally, the third protocol a kennel needs if they get kennel cough is for segregation.
Do they have secure rooms or wings in their kennel? Do they send everyone home and close for ten days? What happens if they can’t communicate with some owners? We’ve had unscrupulous pet owners drop off their dogs who must have known their pet had a high risk of being infectious, but Barbados was calling.
What we do about kennel cough.
Thankfully, we have two buildings so any dog that has been exposed can be relocated to maintain their safety and comfort. Not every kennel has multiple temperature-controlled facilities however and you should ask what their plan includes.
It doesn’t matter which kennel you take your pets to, they need to rely on you to be mindful if your dog starts exhibiting symptoms of kennel cough. They can’t afford to be left holding the bag for a pet-owner’s selfishness. Conversely, you need to trust that the kennel has a plan to keep your pets safe and healthy while you’re tipping back your drinks poolside.