What Is Bordetella?

And how to keep your BFF healthy 🐶

bordetella in dogs

You might recognize the name Bordetella from a vet’s pamphlet about dog vaccinations.

But what is Bordetella, exactly?

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, a veterinary behaviorist at Pet Behavior Medicine and Civilized Pet in California, to find out everything you need to know about Bordetella in dogs.

What exactly is Bordetella in dogs?

Bordetella is a respiratory illness in dogs that’s caused by breathing in a certain kind of bacteria.

“Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacteria that lives in the airways and creates respiratory problems in dogs,” Dr. Schwartz told The Dodo.

The good news is that it’s easily treatable and isn’t typically super serious. However, Bordetella in dogs can become a more serious problem if left untreated.

Bordetella vs. kennel cough

People often confuse Bordetella and kennel cough, but there are key differences. 

“They can be the same thing and ... kennel cough can be other things,” Dr. Schwartz said. “But Bordetella is a prominent part of kennel cough.”

Basically, kennel cough is a respiratory illness in dogs that causes a persistent cough and is usually paired with other symptoms, like a runny nose and sneezing.

Bordetella is the main cause of kennel cough in dogs, but other things can trigger kennel cough, like the canine distemper virus. 

What are the Bordetella symptoms?

“Usually the symptoms are mild,” Dr. Schwartz said.

Be on the lookout for Bordetella symptoms, like:

  • Dry cough, ranging from mild to persistent
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Eye discharge

If you notice any of these symptoms, reach out to your vet because it’s best to identify and treat Bordetella early.

How serious is Bordetella in dogs?

Bordetella in dogs is pretty manageable and easily treatable in most cases. 

While most pups will be able to recover fairly easily from Bordetella, some pups are more likely to experience more complications.

“It really just depends on their immune status and, if they get lucky, sometimes they can fight it off,” Dr. Schwartz explained. “Sometimes they can't. Younger dogs and geriatric dogs and, just like with any infectious disease, immunocompromised dogs are going to be more susceptible.”

But if you don’t treat Bordetella quickly enough, it can turn into something much more serious.

“It can progress into pneumonia if it's untreated or a severe case,” Dr. Schwartz said.

Signs of pneumonia in dogs include:

  • Deep, heavy cough
  • Rapid or strained breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy

Pneumonia is no joke and can even be fatal, so if your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, go to your vet ASAP.

How is Bordetella transmitted in dogs?

Dogs actually get Bordetella by breathing in air particles that contain the bacteria that cause it.

“It's transmitted by inhaling the infected air particles,” Dr. Schwartz said. “It’s passed from dog to dog [by] sharing the same airspace [or] walking in where somebody coughed a few minutes before.”

Since it’s airborne, Bordetella can be more easily transmitted in enclosed spaces, especially ones that aren’t well-ventilated.

This can include places like boarding kennels, doggy daycare or even some vet clinics.

(It’s less likely for vet clinics to have subpar ventilation since most systems will be hospital-quality, but it’s still possible.)

Bordetella can also affect any dog, regardless of age, size or breed.

“Anybody is equally exposed,” Dr. Schwartz said. “Any dog can get it. It's really more of a question of degree and how bad it is.”

How can you prevent Bordetella in dogs?

The best way to prevent Bordetella is by getting your dog vaccinated.

The Bordetella vaccine for dogs can be administered intranasally (aka with nose drops) or through a shot.

The Bordetella vaccine is a non-core vaccine, meaning not all dogs need it (as opposed to a core vaccine, which means it’s vital for every dog).

So if your pup doesn’t get boarded often, frequent doggy daycare or spend a ton of time in poorly ventilated spaces, the vaccine might not be totally necessary.

If you don’t opt for the Bordetella vaccine for your dog, the best way to prevent the illness is by being vigilant about the enclosed places you bring your BFF to.

“Just always ask what kind of ventilation system they have,” Dr. Schwartz said. “Sometimes it's not up to standards, but most modern facilities have filters and directional air transfers and all kinds of fancy gadgets to keep the air flowing, and not recirculating back into the channel situation.”

What can you do for Bordetella treatment?

Since Bordetella is a bacterial infection, antibiotics are the way to go as far as treatment. But sometimes, antibiotics alone won’t cut it.

“Depending on how severe it is, you may need additional medication, but that's usually if they become dehydrated,” Dr. Schwartz said. In those cases, he might need extra fluid or even chest X-rays.

And when it comes to Bordetella treatment, always get a veterinarian’s advice first.

“Nobody should be treating their dog with any medication, whether it's over the counter or any kind of nutraceutical or supplement or holistic, homeopathic anything, without consulting a vet and without a veterinary recommendation,” Dr. Schwartz said.

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