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Bordetella Vaccine: Protecting Your Dog Against Kennel Cough

As a pet parent, you may have heard about the kennel cough — or Bordetella — vaccine for dogs. Maybe you’re wondering: What is Bordetella in dogs? And is the vaccine something my pup really needs?

Keep reading to learn more about the Bordetella vaccine, why it’s given, and which dogs can benefit most from this vaccination.

What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough refers to an illness in dogs called infectious tracheobronchitis. This disease involves inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, or the nose, throat, and bronchi (upper airways).

The most common symptom of kennel cough in dogs is a loud, honking or hacking cough. Often, the cough becomes so severe that a dog may cough up liquid or foam. Other common symptoms include sneezing or a runny nose. Some dogs show general signs of illness, such as lethargy, a fever, or decreased appetite.

There are several kinds of bacteria and viruses that can cause kennel cough, but the most common is a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. As such, the terms “kennel cough” and “Bordetella” are often used interchangeably to describe both the disease itself and the vaccine that helps prevent it.

Note that this is a different disease from Bordetella pertussis that causes whooping cough in humans. Although the cough may sound similar, kennel cough is limited to dogs (cats can catch it occasionally, but in humans it would be extremely rare and typically limited to people who are immuno-compromised).

Kennel cough is highly contagious between dogs. The disease is spread primarily through respiratory droplets (from coughing, sneezing, etc.), but may also spread via direct contact or through sharing objects such as water bowls or toys.

Fortunately, kennel cough is not considered a fatal disease, and the vast majority of dogs recover just fine. Sometimes, kennel cough can progress to pneumonia, which is a serious complication that may be fatal. Young puppies, older seniors, and pups with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for these types of complications.

Even in healthy adults who are expected to recover, the illness can make a dog very uncomfortable. The cough may be unrelenting and become painful, and a pup may have difficulty eating or sleeping. Also, the cough may linger for several weeks. 

So, for relief and for a faster recovery, it’s best to seek veterinary treatment for any dog showing symptoms of kennel cough. 

What Does the Bordetella Vaccine Do?

The Bordetella vaccine helps protect a dog against kennel cough — specifically, against the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacterium.

Some versions of the vaccine also protect against other diseases, such as canine parainfluenza virus or canine adenovirus type 2. These versions are known as bivalent or trivalent (protect against two or three diseases, respectively). Your vet may have a preferred version based on risk factors in your area.

Unfortunately, it is possible for some vaccinated dogs to become infected with kennel cough. However, similar to the way the flu vaccine works in human beings, vaccinated dogs are more likely to have a mild illness rather than experiencing severe symptoms. 

Does Your Dog Need the Bordetella Vaccine?

Pups who are primarily indoor, and who don’t socialize with other dogs at all, might not require the Bordetella vaccine. 

On the other hand, dogs who are social or could be in close proximity to other canines can benefit from the Bordetella vaccine. Relevant situations include:

  • Dog parks.
  • Doggy daycare.
  • Grooming.
  • Boarding.
  • Travel.
  • Training classes.
  • Dog shows or pet events.
  • Walking routes that bring a pup nose to nose with other pups.

It’s important to remember that kennel cough is an airborne disease. Therefore, if a lot of pups are together in a small space, there’s an increased risk of contracting kennel cough. For comparison, consider the way germs can easily spread at a human daycare center or kindergarten class. And, since dogs may be contagious before they show symptoms, exposure to kennel cough can occur even if all the dogs at a facility currently appear healthy.

For all these reasons, many boarding, grooming, and training facilities require proof that a dog is up to date on their Bordetella vaccination prior to entering the facility.

Additionally, if the Bordetella vaccine is indicated, your vet may also recommend additional vaccinations against other respiratory illnesses, such as canine influenza, to help fully protect your furry friend.

Still not sure if your pup needs the Bordetella vaccine? Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s lifestyle, so they can provide you with a personalized recommendation.

Bordetella Vaccine Schedule for Dogs

There are three different forms of the vaccine available, which are administered in different ways (more on this below). Depending on which form your pooch receives with their initial puppy vaccination series, a booster in 3-4 weeks may or may not be required. Puppies in high risk situations (such as at an animal shelter) may receive the intranasal vaccine as young as 3 weeks of age, but more commonly the vaccine is first administered between 8-16 weeks of age.

After their puppy shots are complete, immunity to Bordetella may last for up to one year. Each subsequent booster during adulthood may protect a dog for approximately one year, so it’s important to keep your furry friend up to date to ensure their vaccination is effective. Social pups or dogs who go to grooming, boarding, or training facilities may need the vaccine every six months to maximize their protection.

Vaccines take time to be effective and create an immune response in the body. Therefore, vaccination should ideally be done at least two weeks before going to boarding, grooming, etc.

Oral versus Nasal Bordetella Vaccine versus Injectable 

The intranasal (nose spray) version of the Bordetella vaccine is probably the most commonly used form. An injectable form and an oral (administered by mouth) form are also available.

One advantage of the intranasal Bordetella vaccine is that it has a fast onset of immunity, possibly within 48-72 hours. This can be beneficial if a pup needs to board or be groomed on short notice (although it’s always best to vaccinate 1-2 weeks before a potential exposure if possible). 

The oral Bordetella vaccine is not used as commonly as the intranasal version, and data has shown it to be less effective. However, it is still more effective than no vaccine at all — so it may be a good option for dogs who don’t tolerate intranasal vaccines.

The injectable Bordetella vaccine for dogs may also be preferred in some circumstances, especially with dogs who are aggressive or extremely nervous, since this form of the vaccine doesn’t require contact near the pet’s face. 

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Side effects of the vaccine may include:

  • Annoyance or mild discomfort at having liquid squirted into their nose (fortunately, the sensation only lasts a few seconds).
  • Sneezing for a short time after the intranasal vaccine.
  • Less commonly, tiredness, a mild fever, or coughing. 
  • A severe or allergic reaction is possible but very rare. 
  • If the injectable vaccine is used, there may be some pain at the injection site for a day or up to a few days. The intranasal and oral vaccines are not painful.

If there’s any concern at all, call a veterinarian’s office or bring your pup in to be checked. Fortunately, most dogs do very well with the Bordetella vaccine, with minimal side effects.

For many dogs, the Bordetella vaccine is an important part of their health care plan. The vaccine is affordable, and the benefits to a dog’s health usually outweigh the minimal risks of vaccination.

Be sure to discuss Bordetella for dogs with your veterinarian, to see if your pet can benefit from protection against kennel cough as they get pampered at the groomer’s, spend some time boarding, or go about all their favorite social activities.

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