You may have heard of a respiratory illness dogs can catch called “kennel cough.” But did you know the term kennel cough describes more than one disease? It’s actually a blanket term encompassing many different infectious respiratory illnesses.
While many cases of kennel cough are mild, some cases do develop into pneumonia, making this incredibly contagious disease one to avoid. The good news is that we do have vaccines, like the Bordetella vaccine for dogs, to help protect your pup against this nasty honking cough.
What Is Kennel Cough?
Several viruses and bacteria can cause kennel cough, often at the same time. The group of organisms that causes kennel cough affects the upper respiratory tract of dogs and is characterized by inflammation of the trachea and bronchi.
Canine infectious tracheobronchitis is the scientific and more accurate term for kennel cough. The term tracheobronchitis describes the location of the infection in the windpipe, aka the trachea and bronchial tubes.
Signs of kennel cough are:
- Persistent honking cough
- Nasal discharge (runny nose)
- Reduced appetite
- Mild lethargy
Like a cold in humans, it is very contagious and spreads from dog to dog. It is found in places where dogs come in contact with one another. All it takes is one infected dog to sneeze, bark or cough, and the surrounding air and environment will be flooded with thousands of infectious kennel cough “bugs.”
The most common places your dog might contract this upper respiratory infection include:
- boarding facilities
- doggy daycare
- training facilities
- dog parks
Because the infection spreads when dogs are in close contact with one another, it is often seen soon after dogs have been in kennels—hence the name “kennel cough.”
While kennel cough is not a fatal disease, tracheobronchitis is very uncomfortable for dogs (and their pet parents, who must endure the loud, persistent, honking cough that comes with it).
What Is Bordetella?
Bordetella bronchiseptica, commonly known as Bordetella, is a bacterium that is commonly associated with the respiratory disease in dogs. It’s what causes kennel cough, or infectious tracheobronchitis.
What Is the Bordetella Vaccine for Dogs?
The Bordetella vaccine for dogs protects against this specific bacterium and is widely available to keep your dog safe from kennel cough. You may have heard it called the “kennel cough vaccine.”
Bordetella vaccination is given either by injection or intra-nasal route. Intra-nasal refers to the liquid vaccine administered as nose drops. This allows local immunity to develop on the mucous membranes of the nose, throat and windpipe where the infectious agents first attack. The injectable version of this kennel cough vaccine goes beneath the skin in the subcutaneous tissue, not the muscle, making this one of the easiest vaccines for pups to receive. Intra-nasal vaccination is the choice of many veterinarians but there are exceptions where the injectable vaccine is preferred.
Does My Dog Need the Bordetella Vaccine?
Vaccination is the best way to protect your dog from illnesses associated with canine infectious tracheobronchitis, particularly if your dog frequents kennels, groomers, dog parks, dog sporting events or training classes. While some veterinarians recommend the Bordetella vaccine only for dogs who spend time in those environments, many others recommend the vaccine for all dogs, regardless of their risk. That’s because Bordetella is so easily transmitted and because its vaccine is well tolerated in most dogs. Most dogs are safe candidates for the Bordetella shot, other than dogs who are immunocompromised.
Bordetella Vaccination Schedule
While the Bordetella vaccine for dogs is not legally required, it is one of the most frequently given vaccines. In fact, most boarding, veterinary and daycare facilities do require this vaccine to be up-to-date if you choose to bring your dog to one of these facilities.
The intranasal version of the vaccine is typically administered annually, although boarding facilities or hospitals may recommend it every six months.
For adult dogs or puppies older than 16 weeks of age, the intranasal vaccine can be given once, and the injectable vaccine should be given twice, two to four weeks apart. If puppies receive either the intranasal or injectable vaccine prior to 16 weeks, they typically get a booster the following month. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine if your dog is at risk and to create the best vaccine schedule for your dog if vaccination is advised.
Keep in mind that it takes roughly 10 to 14 days for partial immunity to develop after the vaccine has been administered. Some places will require this period of time to pass before approving your dog.
Bordetella Vaccine Side Effects
It is mandatory for the patient's immune system to function properly in order to respond appropriately to a vaccine challenge. If the patient has a disease, the immune system will be so “occupied” fighting the disease that it will respond poorly to the vaccine.
Dogs with a history of a mild, acute post-vaccination reaction (e.g., facial swelling) are commonly treated with medications prior to vaccination.
Like with all vaccinations, the Bordetella shot may lead to temporary risks and side effects that all dog owners should be aware of. The first Bordetella side effect often noticed is a low-grade fever shortly after vaccines (after about 24 hours). This is a completely normal vaccine reaction and considered a common side effect of the vaccination. You may see your dog experience a change in behavior, such as lack of energy and loss of appetite.
While kennel cough often is a mild disease, the cough may be chronic, lasting for several weeks in some cases. The Bordetella vaccine is a very safe vaccine and widely recommended to protect pups at risk for this widely contagious illness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is a Bordetella vaccine necessary?
A: Some veterinarians recommend the Bordetella vaccine only for dogs who spend time in high-risk environments, like kennels or doggy daycares. Many others recommend the vaccine for all dogs, regardless of their risk. Ask your veterinarian about what’s right for your dog.
Q: How long do Bordetella shots last?
A: The intranasal version of the vaccine is typically administered annually, although boarding facilities or hospitals may recommend it every six months.
Q: Can you buy Bordetella vaccine over the counter?
A: A vaccine for Bordetella is available at some farm and tractor supply stores. The brand that is available for purchase does not have its studies of efficacy published, which likely means it isn't very effective. Also, the vaccine must be maintained around 35 degrees Fahrenheit during shipping or it will not be effective. This makes the shipping not only cost prohibitive compared to purchasing it through your veterinarian's office, but it also is probably ineffective by the time it arrives to you.
Q: Is Bordetella zoonotic?
A: In most cases, Bordetella cannot be transmitted to humans. There have been very rare instances in immunosuppressed patients where it has occurred. It really isn't something to fear however, and has only occurred a very small number of times.
Q: How does Bordetella Pertussis reproduce?
A: Pertussis is the infection that causes whooping cough in humans. Its canine counterpart, Bordetella bronchiseptica, spreads via droplets in the air. It is a highly contagious air-borne disease and propagates in the respiratory tract until the body eliminates it.
Q: Can cats get the Bordetella vaccine?
A: Though it certainly isn't as common as the disease is in dogs, cats can get their own version of kennel cough. It usually is something that is seen in high volume catteries and shelters. Vaccination against kennel cough in cats may be recommended in certain settings.