What Is Bordetella in Dogs

icon April 9, 2024

Dogs are cherished members of many households, providing companionship, joy, and often serving as faithful guardians. However, like all living beings, they are susceptible to various illnesses and infections. One such common respiratory infection affecting dogs is Bordetella, often referred to as kennel cough. Understanding Bordetella, its causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention measures is crucial for every dog owner to ensure their pet's well-being and the health of other dogs they may come into contact with.

What is Bordetella in Dogs?

Bordetella is a highly contagious bacterial infection that primarily affects the respiratory system of dogs. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica, which can also infect other mammals, including humans, cats, and rabbits, though the strain affecting dogs is typically specific to them. Bordetella is particularly prevalent in environments where dogs are in close proximity to each other, such as kennels, dog parks, grooming facilities, and shelters, hence the nickname "kennel cough."

Causes of Bordetella

Bordetella bacteria are spread through airborne respiratory droplets released when an infected dog coughs, sneezes, or even simply breathes. The bacteria can also survive on surfaces for a limited period, allowing for indirect transmission through contact with contaminated objects such as toys, water bowls, or bedding. Healthy dogs can contract Bordetella by inhaling these bacteria or through direct contact with infected dogs.

Factors that increase the risk of Bordetella transmission include:

Hence, environments where dogs are housed in close quarters, such as shelters and boarding facilities, are particularly conducive to the spread of the infection.

Symptoms of Bordetella

Bordetella typically manifests as a dry, hacking cough, often described as a "honking" sound. Other common symptoms may include:

1. Sneezing
2. Nasal discharge
3. Watery eyes
4. Mild fever
5. Loss of appetite
6. Lethargy

In most cases, the symptoms of Bordetella are mild and self-limiting, resembling a common cold in humans. However, in some instances, particularly in young puppies, elderly dogs, or those with underlying health conditions, Bordetella infection can progress to more severe respiratory issues such as pneumonia.

Diagnosis of Bordetella

Diagnosing Bordetella in dogs typically involves a combination of clinical examination, medical history, and laboratory tests. Veterinarians may perform a physical examination to assess the dog's overall health and listen for characteristic coughing sounds. Additionally, they may inquire about recent exposure to other dogs or environments where the risk of Bordetella transmission is high.

Laboratory tests, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays or bacterial cultures, may be conducted to confirm the presence of Bordetella bacteria in respiratory samples collected from the dog's nasal passages or throat. These tests help differentiate Bordetella infection from other respiratory conditions with similar symptoms.

Treatment of Bordetella

The treatment approach for Bordetella in dogs typically focuses on managing symptoms, controlling secondary infections, and preventing the spread of the bacteria to other dogs. Depending on the severity of the infection and the dog's overall health, treatment may include:

1. Antibiotics: In cases where Bordetella infection leads to secondary bacterial infections or complications such as pneumonia, veterinarians may prescribe antibiotics to target the underlying bacterial infection.
2. Cough Suppressants: Cough suppressants may be prescribed to alleviate the dog's discomfort and reduce the frequency and severity of coughing episodes.
3. Rest and Isolation: Affected dogs should be provided with plenty of rest in a quiet, stress-free environment to facilitate recovery. Additionally, isolating infected dogs from other dogs can help prevent the spread of Bordetella.
4. Hydration and Nutrition: Ensuring proper hydration and nutrition is essential for supporting the dog's immune system and promoting healing. Encouraging the dog to drink water and offering easily digestible food can help maintain hydration and nutrition levels.

Related: How Much Water Do Dogs Need To Drink

Prevention of Bordetella

Preventing Bordetella infection is key to protecting dogs from respiratory illness and reducing the risk of transmission to other animals. Several preventive measures can help minimize the spread of Bordetella:

1. Vaccination: Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent Bordetella infection in dogs. The Bordetella vaccine, often administered as a nasal spray or injection, stimulates the dog's immune system to produce antibodies against the bacteria, providing immunity against future infections. Depending on the dog's lifestyle and risk factors, veterinarians may recommend regular vaccination against Bordetella, either as part of a combination vaccine or as a standalone vaccine.

Also Read: Puppy Shot Schedule

2. Good Hygiene Practices: Practicing good hygiene is essential for reducing the risk of Bordetella transmission. This includes regularly cleaning and disinfecting common areas and surfaces frequented by dogs, such as kennels, crates, toys, and water bowls. Additionally, washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling dogs, especially if they exhibit symptoms of respiratory illness, can help prevent the spread of infection.

3. Avoiding High-Risk Environments: Limiting exposure to environments where dogs are in close proximity to each other, such as overcrowded kennels, dog parks, and grooming facilities, can help reduce the risk of Bordetella transmission. If boarding or daycare services are necessary, choosing reputable facilities with strict hygiene protocols and vaccination requirements can minimize the risk of infection.

4. Monitoring Health: Regularly monitoring the health and well-being of dogs, including observing for any signs of respiratory illness such as coughing or sneezing, can help detect and address potential infections early, reducing the risk of transmission to other dogs.



Bordetella is a common respiratory infection in dogs that can cause mild to severe symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge. While the infection is typically self-limiting in healthy dogs, it can lead to complications such as pneumonia, particularly in young puppies or dogs with weakened immune systems. Understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of Bordetella is essential for dog owners and caregivers to safeguard their pets' health and prevent the spread of infection to other dogs. By implementing preventive measures such as vaccination, good hygiene practices, and avoiding high-risk environments, dog owners can help protect their furry companions from Bordetella and ensure their well-being for years to come.

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