Can Kennel Cough Vaccines Cause Coughing?

Dear Dr. Barchas, I have a female Jack Russell terrier, aged between 6 and 8, who went for her kennel cough vaccination three days ago....

dogedit  |  Jan 6th 2012

Dear Dr. Barchas,

I have a female Jack Russell terrier, aged between 6 and 8, who went for her kennel cough vaccination three days ago. The following day, she developed what sounds like a snotty nose, and she’s having moments that last 5 to 15 seconds where she sounds likes she is wheezing.

I phoned my vet yesterday and he said that it is a normal reaction to the vaccination, but my dog sounds quite clogged up. … What is a normal reaction to a vaccination, and how long does it last ?


Your dog’s symptoms do sound like a reaction to the vaccine, but I wouldn’t call it a normal reaction. Coughing, wheezing, and coldlike symptoms that occur after vaccination against kennel cough are not exactly infrequent, but they are not normal either.

Vaccines are designed to stimulate the immune system. Many pets experience mild lethargy, or soreness at the site of the injection as their immune systems react to the stimulation. These symptoms are considered normal.

Rarely, some animals may develop sudden symptoms of acute abnormal immune system overreaction to the vaccine. Symptoms of this include hives, facial swelling, or anaphylactic reaction (which can be life-threatening).

Although the link is controversial and not definitively proven, some experts have hypothesized that vaccines may trigger chronic immune system issues (such as autoimmune skin disease and autoimmune hemolytic anemia) in another, even rarer group of animals. Such reactions to vaccines, if they’re occurring, most definitely are not normal.

So what about your dog? It is possible that she received the nasal vaccine and she is experiencing an aberrant localized reaction to it. It also is possible that she received a type of immunization called a modified live vaccine, which contains live organisms that have been manipulated into a weakened form. Sometimes these weakened organisms can cause transient illness in especially susceptible individuals, or they can become stronger (known as reversion to virulence) — and then cause illness. Fortunately, in the case of a kennel cough vaccine, the organisms should not be able to cause serious illness.

In either case, it is highly likely that your dog’s symptoms will resolve within a few days. Also, be aware that this should not mean your dog will be susceptible to more serious vaccine reactions in the future.

However, this incident should still serve as impetus to revisit your dog’s vaccination schedule. I generally do not recommend kennel cough vaccines unless dogs are staying in a boarding facility that requires them (and even then I don’t truly recommend vaccination — instead, I recommend finding a facility that doesn’t require them). And, of course, I put my money where my mouth is. My pal Buster has been vaccinated against kennel cough precisely once in the last six years, at a time when I thought I might have to board him on an emergency basis.

Increasing numbers of vets are working to modernize their vaccination protocols. Sadly, however, some are not. Every person whose pet goes to the vet for vaccines should enquire about overvaccination and vaccine schedules that are tailored to the pet’s individual circumstances and needs.

Although undervaccination poses a much greater risk to pets than does overvaccination, there is no reason either one should occur.