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Going to the veterinarian can be almost as overwhelming at times as going to your own doctor. By the time your veterinarian finishes going over the list of vaccines your dog needs, your dog’s overall physical condition — perhaps reminding you to cut back on the scraps, and has answered your questions about your dog’s newest behavioral quirk, it is easy to forget what she said about the Bordetella vaccine.

Here is what you need to know about Bordetella and kennel cough to make sure your dog is up-to-date with his shots when he needs it most.

What Is Bordetella?

The Bordetella vaccine is a noncore vaccine that is given to dogs that are frequently exposed to other dogs in boarding or social settings. Canine facilities, such as dog daycare centers, boarding kennels, shows, dog parks, and training classes often require dogs to have the vaccine. This is because Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacterial agent responsible for kennel cough in dogs.

Bordetella bronchiseptica causes inflammation of your dog’s upper respiratory system. This inflammation leads to coughing and illness and can expose your dog to secondary infections. However, you probably won’t hear anybody telling you that your dog has Bordetella bronchiseptica. Instead, most veterinarians and canine professionals call the disease kennel cough, which can lead to some confusion about what the Bordetella vaccine is for.


What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is an all-encompassing term used to depict a multitude of highly contagious respiratory illness. It is usually spread in areas where large numbers of dogs are confined, like kennels, which is how the disease got its name. Kennel cough itself is not fatal, but the disease can lead to fatal bronchopneumonia in puppies and chronic bronchitis in senior or immunocompromised dogs, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, which is why it is important to assess whether or not your dog is at risk of catching the disease when deciding to vaccinate.

Kennel cough, scientifically known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is easily spread from dog to dog through aerosol droplets, direct contact, or contact with contaminated surfaces like food and water bowls, toys, or kennel runs — a bit like how the common cold is spread in grade schools. Your dog is most likely to pick it up in an area where lots of dogs congregate, but he can also pick it up from any contaminated environment, and you can bring it home to him if you spend a lot of time around dogs at work or during volunteer opportunities.

The most distinctive symptom of kennel cough is the loud, unmistakable honking cough that dogs develop with the disease. Other symptoms of kennel cough in dogs include a runny nose, sneezing, loss of appetite, lethargy, and a low fever. These symptoms are also similar to those dogs infected with canine distemper and the canine influenza virus, which are much more serious than kennel cough, so make sure you call your veterinarian and explain your dog’s symptoms. Calling ahead will also help your veterinarian prevent the spread of kennel cough in her office, so make sure you follow her instructions when you bring your dog in for a visit.

The good news is that despite kennel cough’s contagious nature, the disease is usually very treatable. Your veterinarian may prescribe a few weeks of rest for your dog, along with cough medicine and possibly antibiotics to prevent any secondary infections from causing complications. Keep in mind that your veterinarian may prescribe more aggressive treatment procedures if your dog is a puppy, a senior, or an immunocompromised dog. Talk to your veterinarian about preventing the spread of kennel cough from an infected dog to other dogs in the house or neighborhood.


Is the Bordetella Vaccine Necessary?

Kennel cough is highly contagious. If your dog goes to dog parks, boarding facilities, dog daycare, or attends training classes or dog shows, then he is at risk for contracting kennel cough. Many of these facilities require dogs to come with proof of the Bordetella vaccination before they are allowed on the premises, so it is in your dog’s best interest for his health and extracurricular activities to get the vaccine. If your dog stays in the house and is rarely around other dogs, talk to your veterinarian about whether or not she believes your dog is at risk of contracting kennel cough.

When Should My Dog Get a Bordetella Vaccine?

The best way to determine when or if your dog needs the Bordetella vaccine is to consult your veterinarian. In general, healthy adult dogs that come into contact with large groups of other dogs should have a Bordetella vaccine annually, and boarding facilities may require a booster within the last six months. Talk to your veterinarian about protecting your puppy from Bordetella with a vaccination at the appropriate age.

Are There Risks Associated With the Bordetella Vaccine?

Vaccinations are usually a very safe medical procedure, and the compelling benefits of vaccinations must be weighed against any risks. However, your veterinarian may advise against getting the Bordetella vaccine if your dog is immunocompromised, sick, or pregnant, and she will discuss the risks and benefits of the vaccine for dogs with a previous history of vaccine reactions.

While Bordetella is the most common cause of kennel cough in dogs, it is not the only one. Other bacteria and viruses, including the parainfluenza virus, can also cause kennel cough, which means that even vaccinated dogs can get kennel cough from another source. This is why it is important for owners to be aware of the symptoms of kennel cough, even if their dogs have had the Bordetella vaccine.

For more information about Bordetella and kennel cough, contact your veterinarian.