Bordetella in Dogs

Bordetella in dogs, primarily caused by the bacterium “Bordetella bronchiseptica”, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that targets the respiratory system, leading to inflammation and infection. 

The term “kennel cough” refers to the widespread occurrence of this illness in settings where dogs interact closely, like dog parks, kennels, grooming salons, and shelters. 

Bordetella in dogs is characterized by symptoms such as a persistent cough, sneezing, nasal discharge, gagging, lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, and eye discharge. It can spread quickly through direct contact, airborne transmission, or contaminated surfaces. Since it is more common in settings where dogs are in close quarters, like kennels, dog parks, grooming salons, and shelters, it is often referred to as “kennel cough”.

What is Bordetella?

Bordetella bronchiseptica is the primary bacterium responsible for Bordetella in dogs. It is a highly contagious pathogen that targets the respiratory system, leading to inflammation and infection. This bacterium can spread quickly, especially in environments where dogs are in close contact, such as kennels, dog parks, grooming facilities, and shelters. The condition is commonly known as kennel cough due to its prevalence in these settings.

Symptoms of Bordetella in Dogs

Recognizing the symptoms of Bordetella in dogs is crucial for early detection and treatment. The symptoms can vary in severity but typically include:

  • Persistent Cough: The hallmark symptom of Bordetella is a persistent, hacking cough. It often sounds like a honking noise and can be dry or productive. This cough can be triggered by excitement, exercise, or pressure on the trachea.
  • Sneezing and Nasal Discharge: Dogs with Bordetella may experience frequent sneezing and a runny nose. The nasal discharge is usually clear but can become thick and discolored if a secondary infection occurs.
  • Gagging and Retching: Due to the irritation in the throat and trachea, affected dogs may gag or retch, sometimes producing a foamy substance.
  • Lethargy: Infected dogs might exhibit reduced energy levels and seem more tired than usual. They may be less interested in play and other activities.
  • Loss of Appetite: Bordetella can cause a decrease in appetite, leading to potential weight loss if the infection persists.
  • Fever: Some dogs may develop a mild fever as their immune system responds to the infection.
  • Eye Discharge: Watery or mucus-like discharge from the eyes can also be a symptom of Bordetella.

Diagnosis of Bordetella

If you suspect your dog has Bordetella, it is important to consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. The vet will typically perform a physical examination and may recommend additional tests such as:

  1. Nasal and Throat Swabs: Collecting samples from the nasal passages and throat can help identify the presence of Bordetella bacteria.
  1. Blood Tests: Blood tests can help rule out other potential causes of the symptoms and provide a broader understanding of your dog’s overall health.
  1. X-rays: In severe cases, chest X-rays may be taken to assess the extent of the infection and check for any complications like pneumonia.

Treatment of Bordetella in Dogs

Treatment for Bordetella in dogs varies depending on the severity of the infection and the dog’s overall health. Mild cases often resolve on their own with supportive care, while more severe cases may require medical intervention. Here are some common treatment approaches:

  • Rest and Isolation: Ensuring your dog gets plenty of rest is crucial for recovery. Isolating the infected dog from other animals helps prevent the spread of the infection.
  • Hydration: Keeping your dog well-hydrated supports their immune system and helps thin mucus secretions, making it easier for them to breathe.
  • Cough Suppressants: In some cases, veterinarians may prescribe cough suppressants to alleviate the discomfort caused by persistent coughing. However, these are used cautiously and only when necessary.
  • Antibiotics: If a bacterial infection is confirmed or suspected, antibiotics may be prescribed to target the Bordetella bacteria. It’s important to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by the vet.
  • Nebulization and Steam Therapy: Nebulization involves administering medication in a mist form, which can be inhaled by the dog to soothe the respiratory tract. Steam therapy, such as allowing the dog to breathe in steam from a humidifier, can also provide relief.
  • Nutritional Support: Ensuring your dog receives a balanced diet and, if necessary, supplements can support their immune system during recovery.

Prevention of Bordetella in Dogs

Prevention is the best strategy when it comes to Bordetella in dogs. There are several effective measures you can take to reduce the risk of your dog contracting this infection:

1. Vaccination

The Bordetella vaccine is widely available and highly recommended for dogs, especially those that frequently interact with other dogs. The vaccine can be administered as an injectable, intranasal, or oral dose. While it may not completely prevent the infection, it significantly reduces the severity and duration of symptoms.

2. Regular Veterinary Check-ups

Routine veterinary visits ensure that your dog’s overall health is monitored, and any potential issues can be addressed promptly.

3. Good Hygiene Practices

Maintaining cleanliness in your dog’s environment, including their bedding, toys, and living spaces, can help prevent the spread of infections.

4. Avoiding Crowded Places

Limiting your dog’s exposure to crowded places like dog parks, kennels, and grooming salons, especially during outbreaks, can reduce the risk of contracting Bordetella.

5. Healthy Diet and Exercise

A well-balanced diet and regular exercise keep your dog’s immune system strong, making them less susceptible to infections.

6. Quarantine New Additions

If you bring a new dog into your home, consider a quarantine period to ensure they are not carrying any infectious diseases before introducing them to other pets.

Risks and Complications

While Bordetella in dogs is generally a mild illness, it can lead to complications, especially in young puppies, elderly dogs, or those with weakened immune systems. Some potential complications include:

Secondary Infections: Bordetella can weaken the respiratory tract, making dogs more susceptible to secondary bacterial or viral infections, such as pneumonia.

Chronic Bronchitis: In some cases, Bordetella can lead to chronic bronchitis, resulting in long-term respiratory issues.

Severe Illness in Vulnerable Dogs: Puppies, older dogs, and dogs with pre-existing health conditions may experience more severe symptoms and a prolonged recovery period.


Bordetella in dogs, though common, can be effectively managed and prevented with the right knowledge and care. By understanding the symptoms, seeking timely treatment, and taking preventive measures, you can help ensure your dog’s health and happiness. Regular veterinary visits, good hygiene practices, and staying informed about the latest in canine health can go a long way in keeping Bordetella at bay. Remember, a healthy dog is a happy dog!