By Sherri Romig CPDT-KA
I take a very holistic approach to healthcare with my animals, and so I choose not to vaccinate my own pets for Bordatella. I have also chosen not to require this vaccination at my dog daycare and training facility. This paper is a brief discussion of my personal position, and contains supportive documentation from veterinary experts.
Years ago, when I had my first job at a vet’s office, I vaccinated all of my dogs for Bordatella, and successfully encouraged clients to vaccinate their pets for it as well. When all of my vaccinated dogs contracted kennel cough, I began to wonder what the point of vaccinating them in the first place was, and elected to skip the vaccine the following year. This decision at that point was based solely on that experience, and not on any actual education about the effectiveness of the vaccine.
A few years later, I began studying things like diet and vaccines because of a sick dog, and what I found shocked me, considering my eduction thus far had been very allopathic. The more I learned, the more holistically-minded I became.
I now had good reason to avoid the kennel cough vaccine, not just my own experience of having a houseful of vaccinated dogs contract the illness. While studying holistic healthcare for animals, I learned about the science behind vaccines, including how they are supposed to work, how they actually work, how the immune system works, and the dangers associated with vaccination.
To get into the effectiveness, dangers, and side-effects (including things like vaccinosis, skin allergies, and cancer) associated with vaccination in general is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that research continues to mount showing that vaccines are not as safe as they were once considered to be, and a limited vaccine schedule is now recommended by leading experts in this field. One such expert, Dr. Ronald Schultz, wrote, “Vaccines can and do cause adverse reactions, thus don’t administer vaccines if and when they are not needed. Vaccines can cause severe adverse reactions, including death!” The current standard for vaccination is the protocol put forth by Dr. Jean Dodds, the leading expert in vaccine research. However, many holistic-minded owners and veterinarians still elect to use a lighter vaccine protocol than the Dodds standard.
The animal’s own immune system is another large factor to consider when thinking about kennel cough and vaccination. If the animal has strong natural immunity, they are able to fight off a kennel cough infection naturally, even if exposed to the virus. In fact, exposing a healthy animal to low levels of the virus helps them to develop natural immunity to kennel cough. An article from the Whole Dog Journal states “These exposures, in essence, will ‘vaccinate’ the dog naturally, as his immune system learns to recognize and mount a defense against the ubiquitous pathogens.”
This follows the logic of vaccinations themselves, which is that if you expose the animal to small amounts of a pathogen, this will stimulate the immune system, and the body will begin to develop natural antibodies to this disease. Therefore, if the dog ever comes across this germ naturally, the body will already have a system in place for dealing with that specific pathogen.
However, there are still several flaws to this. First, if the animal is vaccinated while it is in a weakened immune state, its body may not be prepared to deal with the onslaught of pathogens or may not be strong enough to develop the immunity that the vaccine is intending. Second, delivery via injection into the bloodstream (especially of several pathogens at once, as in the case of polyvalent or “combo” vaccines) is also an unnatural way to stimulate immunity, considering that an animal would rarely be exposed to pathogens in that fashion naturally. To this regard, Dr. Martin Goldstein comments that naturally, most of the diseases addressed by standard vaccines “are all absorbed via the oral and/or respiratory systems, where they encounter the immune system’s first line of defense…and the rest of the immune system is warned that a viral threat is coming, and given time to rally its white blood cells and antibodies.” Injecting the pathogen directly into the bloodstream of the animal does not give their body this defensive luxury. Dr. Ronald Schultz has also commented on this topic in regard to the kennel cough vaccine specifically: “Don’t even use the injectible Bordatella: there are very real issues against injecting bacterins and the risk of the vaccine reactions does not outweigh the risk of contracting the disease.”
In my own experience, I have a houseful of dogs and do rescue and foster work. I find that when I bring in a foster that has come from a shelter (who of course elects to vaccinate the dog for many things including kennel cough just before sending them to me), they will begin to show symptoms of kennel cough shortly after coming into my home. Even though these dogs are in close quarters with my own dogs, my dogs do not develop the symptoms of kennel cough. I believe that this is because of the natural immunity of my (unvaccinated) animals as a result of their healthy and holistic lifestyle. This observation is based on many instances over the course of several years. Kennel cough does not seem to transfer to my dogs, even in close quarters. (These include some of the same dogs, by the way, that contracted kennel cough all those years ago when they were vaccinated.)
Kennel cough is essentially the canine equivalent of the common cold in humans. This means two things: 1. it is not a serious illness, and is self-limiting (this means that, like the common cold, it will run its course naturally within a week or two). 2. there many different strains of kennel cough out there (as there are with the common cold), so the vaccine itself has limited usefulness in that regard. The dog must be vaccinated for the same strain it is exposed to for it to even have a chance at being effective. On this matter, several veterinarians, including vaccination expert Dr. Ronald Schultz have comment: “kennel cough is not vaccine preventable because of the complex factors associated with this disease. Furthermore, kennel cough is often a mild to moderate self limiting disease, which I refer to as the ‘Canine Cold.’”
Doctor Karen Becker, DVM states: “The truth is, these vaccines are ineffective and will not prevent your dog from getting kennel cough. The infection is caused by a wide variety of bacterial and viral agents, and no single vaccine can provide protection from them all.”
Finally on this matter, Dr. Patricia Monahan Jordan writes: “Kennel Cough is NOT A VACCINATABLE DISEASE, realize this and stop the boarding kennels from making the dogs sick. In people, cows, dogs, cats, horses, birds etc, the respiratory disease complex is also not a vaccine preventable disease. Stress, diet, crowding, ventilation—all play a part in who gets what and how bad they get it. Only vaccinate against WHAT IS NECESSARY. Anytime you inject anything into a patient you have the potential of killing them.”
Problems with the kennel cough vaccine are that it does not prevent the animal from contracting kennel cough since it cannot provide immunity against all strains, the vaccine will often cause the animal to develop the symptoms of kennel cough, and the vaccine often causes the animal to shed the kennel cough virus for a short period, exposing all other animals that they come in contact with to the illness. (This is in addition to the problems associated with vaccination in general, included to the dangers of adjuvants, the onslaught to the immune system, and vaccine-related side-effects.) At best, the vaccine will reduce the length and severity of the kennel cough symptoms by a minor degree if your animal contracts the illness. The 2010 Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats distributed by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association contains this statement: “Canine respiratory disease complex (kennel cough) is not a vaccine-preventable disease and the vaccine should only be used to help manage the disease.”
In a pro-vaccination paper by Dr Daniel Kiel, the following information is contained:
1. “Findings consistent with rhinitis, bronchitis, or tracheitis were noted in 50-100% of vaccinated dogs following exposure to B. bronchiseptica.”
2. “In addition, bacterins may contain endotoxin, a component of gram-negative bacterial cell walls. Endotoxin contamination can lead to systemic vaccination reactions and occasionally death.”
3. “While these outbreaks did result in many [racing greyhounds] being temporarily unable to
perform, to our knowledge, no deaths can be attributed to the pathogens associated with the KC
What this essentially says is that 50-100% of dogs vaccinated for kennel cough will still show symptoms of the illness after exposure, the vaccine sometimes leads to reactions including death, and kennel cough alone is not known to have caused any deaths. Why on earth would we choose to inject a vaccine that has caused death in some animals in an attempt to prevent an illness that is not known to cause death, especially when the vaccine is less than 50% effective in preventing symptoms of that illness in the first place?! This simply makes no sense!
While kennel cough certainly sounds scary because of its characteristic dry, hacking cough, it is a mild illness that can be easily treated with gentle, natural remedies. There are many resources to consult on treating kennel cough at home. These treatments typically include boosting the dog’s immune system and gently soothing its cough. Again, kennel cough is a self-limiting disease, which means that in all but a few rare cases, the illness will clear up on its own even without treatment.
Kennel cough can also be holistically prevented without the use of vaccination. In a recent personal conversation with holistic veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Lakenau, she explained to me that kennel cough manifests itself in the dogs trachea. Dr. Lakenau stated that this usually only happens when the dog has tracheal irritation that gives the kennel cough virus a foothold to get into the dog’s system. This irritation is usually resultant from the harsh chemical cleaning agents used in the kennel environment (hence its prevalence in dog kennels). This sentiment is supported in an article by Dr. Wendy Brooks. Dr. Brooks states: “The normal respiratory tract has substantial safeguards against invading infectious agents. One safeguard consists of tiny hair-like structures called cilia that protrude from the cells lining the respiratory tract, and extend into a coat of mucus over them. Debris, including infectious agents, get trapped in the sticky gel and the cilia move them upward towards the throat where the collection of debris and mucus may be coughed up and/or swallowed. Without this protective mechanism, invading bacteria, especially Bordetella bronchiseptica, the chief agent of kennel cough, may simply march down the airways unimpeded.” She also lists a number of factors that will damage this mechanism.
Dr. Lakenau suggested that since we use only natural, non-toxic, non-irritating cleaning agents in my facility, dogs would be unlikely to have tracheal irritation, and therefore unlikely to succumb to kennel cough virus should it be brought through my doors.
Dr. Lakenau also mentioned a study done by Dr. Christopher Day in the 1980s that effectively demonstrated that the kennel cough nosode is more effective than the vaccine at preventing an outbreak of kennel cough in boarding facilities. She suggested that owners who are concerned about contracting kennel cough might look for a veterinarian in the area who offers nosode treatment rather than vaccinating their dogs.
In a letter to congress, Dr. Gloria Dodd used Dr. Day’s research to point out: “There is a safer, effective form of immunization that has been documented for over 2000 years in Greece and Europe: the use of homeopathic vaccine nosodes. Today many veterinarians in this country, Great Britain and Germany are using this preferred method of vaccination. Scientific studies have been published by Dr. Christopher Day (England) who proved the use of the Kennel Cough Nosode reduced the incidence of Kennel Cough in a boarding kennel of 254 dogs by 98% with no adverse reactions. He published in the Journal Int Assoc Vet Homeopathy 4/87.”
As a result of my personal experience, the extensive documentation of the dangers of vaccination in general (not discussed in this article), and evidence that the kennel cough vaccine is ineffective at best, I have elected not to subject my personal dogs to this vaccination. Because of my personal decision regarding what is best for my own pets, I do not feel that it would be ethical to require clients coming into my facility to subject their dogs to something I refuse to use on my own pets. My vaccine policy is well-researched and based on what I feel is the best interest of the dogs whose care is entrusted to me.
Whole Dog Journal publication “All’s Well”, edited by Nancy Kearns 2007
Dr. Martin Goldstein, The Nature of Animal Healing 1999
2010 Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats distributed by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association: https://www.wsava.org/PDF/Misc/VaccinationGuidelines2010.pdf
Dr. Ronald Schultz: https://www.kanabvet.com/articles/Schultz_Vaccinations.pdf
Dr. Gloria Dodd: https://www.cavm.net/Files/Dodd.pdf
Dr. Daniel Kiel: https://www.vet.ksu.edu/depts/dmp/service/serology/Kennel_Cough.pdf
Dr. Wendy Brooks: https://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=600