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....
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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 ?

Lisa

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.

3 thoughts on “Can Kennel Cough Vaccines Cause Coughing?”

  1. My 6 pound Chiweenie had to get a kennel cough vaccination in order to be boarded for 10 days while I leave the state for surgery. Its been 3 days and she is acting like she is sneezing over and over. I can also hear rattling in her chest like she is terribly congested. She had the vaccine that went up her nose. Can see die? She sounds like she has pneumonia although she has no fever. If this is not a severe issue how long will this last? I personally don’t like it one bit. How do I know when I should take her to an animal hospital?

    1. Hi Joy,
      We definitely suggest contacting your vet with these questions. Best of luck and hope your dog feels better!

  2. So basically you went so over the top with your explanation you first scared the crap out of them, then soften it then talk about over and under vaccinations. Typical Dr. Talk when you could’ve simply said they should be fine. Then say however if they should develop these symptoms etc…. Just made me laugh historically after reading the entire post just to get out of it the dog is fine and don’t over or under vaccinate and you suggest not vaccinating for kennel cough. Anyways thanx for the information as I also vaccinated and they underdeveloped a slight wheezing and cough which sound just like KC.

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