Who’s Calling the Shots?

A veterinarian friend and I were talking just yesterday, sharing some of the “war stories” of our careers. Some of these stories were happy, some sad, some funny, and some frustrating. Like pretty much the stories of any workplace. One experience we discussed struck a nerve with me, as well as my friend. I bet virtually every veterinarian has felt frustration with this scenario at one time or another.

It’s common for owners to have to board their dogs at one time or another. Sometimes it’s the annual family vacation, sometimes work related travel, sometimes something unexpected or even an emergency. In a perfect world, a friend or family member could take in the dog, or a petsitter could come to the house to care for him.  Unfortunately these options are not always available. So a boarding kennel may be the only option.

Kennels can be lifesavers for owners. Many of them provide excellent care for dogs, who may have specific needs, medications, or personalities. Kennels are 7 day a week, 365 day a year businesses. As a college student, I had an apartment at a boarding kennel, where I covered the weekend shift and nighttime potty break. It’s a huge responsibility to care for someone’s dog, and one I’m sure no kennel owner takes lightly.

However, I do have a problem with some kennels. Not with anything that has to do with their level of care. Rather, it’s when they impose medical requirements that are unnecessary. Specifically, I’m speaking of the practice of some kennels of requiring the kennel cough vaccine (also known as Bordetella) every six months.  All currently available kennel cough vaccines are proven by the manufacturer, to FDA standards, to be effective for at least one year. So why in the world would anyone require a dog to be vaccinated when the previous vaccination is still “up to date?”

Before answering that question, a couple points need to be understood. First, there are at least ten different organisms which can cause what we term kennel cough. The common kennel cough vaccines protect against one or two of these agents. For the others, your dog’s immune system must fight the disease, much as we fight off a cold. Second, most kennel cough vaccines are not able to prevent the disease, but rather to lessen the severity.  Third, many dogs will react to the intranasal vaccine by developing a cough, with or without nasal discharge. This usually occurs within a few days of vaccination, and resolves fairly quickly. However, in some cases, we are not able to differentiate a vaccine reaction cough from a case of true kennel cough.

So, why would a kennel require a redundant, unnecessary vaccination in order to board a dog? It would be logical if they had experienced a kennel cough outbreak or local epidemic, and were worried that it could happen again. Or if there had been a known recall or production problem with some common kennel cough vaccines, or perhaps a new strain that the current vaccines were not effective against. Otherwise I cannot think of a reason, except perhaps in the case a franchised boarding and daycare company, who happens to be owned by a corporate veterinary company, who is in turn owned by the largest pet food company in the world, the Mars Corporation. Yes, the candy bar folks. (They actually own the majority of corporate veterinary hospitals in the USA today.) Indirectly, they are requiring you to over-vaccinate your dog if you want to board or daycare your dog with them. Is this who should be calling the shots for your dog’s health? And why would they “double vaccinate” your dog, except to double their profit?

So, what can you do, as an enlightened dog owner? First and foremost, do not use boarding or daycare facilities that impose arbitrary requirements that directly contradict FDA approved medical products or the opinions of your veterinarian. Insist that decisions about your dog’s medical care are made by your veterinarian and you! Investigate pet sitters and consider family or friends that might care for your dog when you travel. And look for kennels that have vaccination requirements that are in accordance with the latest medical information and practices.



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