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Bordetella: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
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When you visit your vet for your dog's annual wellness exam, they'll likely discuss a few different types of optional vaccinations. One vaccination is the Bordetella shot, which vets recommend your dog has a booster for every six to twelve months, depending on their exposure risk. What is Bordetella in dogs, and does your dog need to be vaccinated?
If your dog is coughing, you might be worried they have kennel cough, which is caused by the Bordetella bacteria. Most pet parents already know a little bit about what Bordetella in dogs is and why it's so important to get their dogs vaccinated. However, Bordetella is just one common cause of kennel cough in dogs, with others being various other respiratory infections and illnesses. Vaccinating your dog can prevent them from experiencing painful and uncomfortable symptoms like coughing, choking, and gagging. Additionally, it will prevent other dogs, especially those considered high-risk, such as seniors and puppies, from contracting a dangerous illness.
- What Is Bordetella In Dogs?
- Signs Of Bordetella In Dogs
- Diagnosing Bordetella In Dogs
- Treating Dog Bordetella
- Bordetella Prevention
- Final Notes
What Is Bordetella In Dogs?
Bordetella is a bacteria that is associated with canine respiratory disease. It's one of the main causes of kennel cough, an umbrella term used to describe various respiratory illnesses in dogs. However, many people refer to Bordetella as kennel cough.1 It's important to note that kennel cough (CIRD) is a general term that can be used to describe infectious coughing or a viral infection like canine influenza. However, there are several key differences between these illnesses. Bordetella is a bacteria that's a primary pathogen associated with the illness.2
Bordetella is highly contagious and transmitted through direct contact with other dogs or infected objects. The bacteria is spread through droplets, direct contact, and infected surfaces, such as shared toys or water bowls. Doggy daycares, groomers, dog parks, boarding facilities, and shelters are the most common places where dogs can be infected. However, any dog can contract Bordetella because it can live in the environment for weeks and on objects for several days.
Bordetella causes respiratory system inflammation that leads to coughing and lethargy, leaving your dog susceptible to secondary infections, including pneumonia.3
Signs Of Bordetella In Dogs
To understand what Bordetella in dogs is, you should clearly understand kennel cough. While kennel cough refers to a variety of illnesses that cause respiratory distress in dogs, Bordetella is one of the most common causes, resulting in symptoms such as:
- A dry, honking cough: The most common symptom of Bordetella in dogs is the dry, honking cough associated with kennel cough.3 However, if your dog's illness progresses, it can turn into bronchitis or pneumonia, in which they'll have a wet cough.
- Runny nose and sneezing: Dogs with Bordetella may exhibit nasal discharge and sneezing due to inflammation of the airways as your dog's body tries to fight the infection.
- Fever: If your dog has a fever, it likely indicates their body is fighting the infection. However, if their fever gets too high, it could be dangerous, so you should continue to monitor their fever while they're getting treated to ensure the treatments are effective and your dog's symptoms are improving.
- Loss of appetite: Loss of appetite is fairly common when dogs aren't feeling well. Your dog's symptoms can make them not feel like eating. Of course, if your dog doesn't eat at all, you should consult your vet to find ways to encourage them to eat, such as an appetite stimulating medication.
- Lethargy: Since the immune system is focused on fighting the Bordetella infection, your dog may be more tired than usual. Lethargy is common when dogs aren’t feeling well. Still, if they have difficulty staying awake or getting up, you should take them to the vet as soon as possible, especially if they're experiencing other serious symptoms like rapid, shallow, or loud breathing.
While knowing the signs of Bordetella in dogs can help you determine when it's time to take them to the vet, you should not try to diagnose and treat your dog at home. Instead, you should take your dog to the vet if you notice symptoms such as lethargy, inappetance, and coughing because Bordetella symptoms can resemble other, more serious illnesses.
In most cases, symptoms of Bordetella in dogs last for a few weeks. However, your dog may still have a persistent cough once they're recovered. Treatment may speed up your dog's recovery time if your vet thinks it's necessary, but in most cases, your vet will suggest supportive care at home. Remember, mild cases of Bordetella infection will go away on their own, but you should always have your pet diagnosed by a vet to ensure they have Bordetella and not another more serious underlying health condition that can cause similar symptoms, such as pneumonia.
Diagnosing Bordetella In Dogs
Bordetella in dogs is usually diagnosed based on physical examination and clinical history. Your vet will ask you if your dog has been exposed to potentially infected dogs or taken a recent trip to daycare, boarding facility, or groomer. Since Bordetella is a bacteria, your vet may also use cultures and blood work to confirm the diagnosis.
Treating Dog Bordetella
Bordetella is typically treated with rest. Mild cases of kennel cough from Bordetella will subside on their own as long as your dog has access to clean water and food and can get enough rest to help their body fight the infection. However, depending on the severity of your dog's symptoms, there are several treatment methods available, including the following:
- Nebulizers and vaporizers: Inhaling antibiotics can help relieve some of your dog's symptoms. However, this treatment method is not typically prescribed because it's not usually needed as the Bordetella infection is typically short-lived.4 Your vet may suggest letting your dog inhale steam from the shower at home to reduce congestion and coughing.
- Antibiotics: Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to if they suspect a secondary infection and help your dog's body fight the infection faster. Although, again, these are not typically used for treatment since the dog's immune system should fight Bordetella on its own. Still, since Bordetella is a bacteria, antibiotics can be effective. Antibiotics may also be used if your dog has a secondary infection like pneumonia.
- Cough suppressants: Cough suppressants can help treat mild kennel cough by reducing the uncomfortable symptoms for your dog. Of course, these won't actually fight the bacteria, but they can make your dog more comfortable as they rest and recover. However, these are not generally recommended because coughing is necessary to remove bacteria and phlegm in the respiratory tract.
- Hospitalization: Most cases of Bordetella in dogs are mild, and dogs will recover without treatment. However, since Bordetella can lead to long-term illnesses like chronic bronchitis and pneumonia, your vet may suggest hospitalization if your dog's symptoms worsen. In these cases, your vet may administer oxygen therapy and IV fluids to help the body fight infection.
- Supportive care: As we've mentioned, most adult dogs can clear the infection on their own without the need for medical intervention. Once your dog is diagnosed with Bordetella infection, your vet will send you home with tips on caring for your sick dog. In most cases, they suggest letting your dog rest as much as possible and limiting exercise while they're sick. If you have multiple dogs in the home, you should quarantine your sick dog to prevent the spread of infection throughout your household. If your dog sleeps too much or becomes dehydrated, consult your vet for the next steps.
Luckily, Bordetella and kennel cough can be prevented. The Bordetella vaccine is available for dogs from puppyhood through adulthood, and it is often required by boarding facilities, daycares, and training facilities to protect all of their guests. There are three versions of the vaccine: intranasal, injectable, and oral. Once your puppy has received their initial vaccines, they'll receive a booster every six to twelve months for the rest of their lives.4
The Bordetella vaccine is optional, so it's not required by your state like the rabies vaccine. However, many suggest dogs get this non-core vaccine to prevent uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms if they come into contact with the bacteria. Talk to your vet to discuss your pet’s risk of Bordetella in order to determine whether they’re a good candidate for the vaccine.
In addition to having your pet vaccinated, you should also not expose them to other dogs that might not be vaccinated. Of course, this can be difficult to do at your local dog park. With the vaccination, your dog is protected from a serious illness. However, if your dog is a puppy and hasn't completed all their Bordetella vaccinations, you should limit their contact with other dogs.
Remember, your dog needs bi-annual or yearly boosters to remain protected. Therefore, if your dog hasn't had a booster within the last twelve months, you should make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible, especially if you plan on boarding your dog anytime soon. If your dog tolerates going to the vet, there's no reason not to get them vaccinated.
Of course, some pet parents may choose not to vaccinate their pets. For example, if your dog is aggressive toward other dogs and doesn't spend time socializing, vaccinating them might not be necessary. However, it might still be well worth it just in case they come into contact with infected objects. Additionally, since Bordetella vaccination is often an injection, it may be difficult for your vet to administer it to your dog, especially if they experience anxiety at the vet's office. However, you can talk to your vet to determine if the Bordetella vaccine is right for your pet.
Bordetella is a common infection in dogs. However, in most cases, the illness and symptoms are mild, and most dogs will recover within a few weeks as long as they get enough rest. Of course, every dog is different. If your dog has Bordetella and is suffering from severe coughing or difficulty breathing, they may need medical treatment.
Whether you're wondering if your dog has Bordetella or are caring for a sick dog at home, Dutch can help. Dutch's telemedicine for pets allows you to get your dog the care they need from the comfort of home. With a Dutch vet by your side, you can ensure your dog gets the treatment they need to reduce their symptoms and help them recover faster. Try Dutch today.
“What Is Bordetella?” Wisconsin Humane Society, https://www.wihumane.org/behavior/ask-the-experts/dogs/what-is-bordetella.
Tonozzi, Caroline C. "Kennel Cough - Respiratory System." Merck Veterinary Manual, 13 Dec. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/respiratory-system/respiratory-diseases-of-small-animals/kennel-cough.
Burke, Anna. "5 Facts about the Bordetella Vaccine for Dogs." American Kennel Club, 26 May 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/facts-bordetella-vaccine-dogs/.
"Kennel Cough: What Is Kennel Cough in Dogs?" American Kennel Club, 12 Nov. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/kennel-cough-symptoms-treatment-and-prevention/.