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Bordetella in Dogs – Symptoms, Prevention, Treatments & FAQ

A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Published on
Thursday 9 January 2020
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
bordetalla in dogs
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Canine Bordetella, also known as Bordetella bronchiseptica, is a bacterial agent well known for causing respiratory infections in dogs. Most specifically, kennel cough. Indeed, the illness itself is not particularly dangerous. However, if left untreated, Bordetella heavily weakens an immune system and leaves your dog vulnerable to much more serious pathogens.

The main symptoms of Bordetella include an aggressive, chesty cough and typical cold symptoms such as a runny nose. Usually, this bacteria can be found in kennels or densely populated areas. It is highly contagious in both dogs and humans and can be transmitted from one species to another.

What Is Canine Bordetella?

Canine Bordetella is a bacterial pathogen known to attack the respiratory systems of dogs. Humans, rabbits, cats and other species can also be infected with Bordetella. So do not presume your dog is safe if they do not attend a kennel.

This illness can be transmitted both through the air, direct contact and ingested bodily fluids. Therefore, treating your dog can also prevent you or your family from being infected. The main symptom is a heavy cough which can cause throat pain, running eyes and nose, and chest pain. Dogs may cough up phlegm. So it is important to recognize the phlegm color and see if it has progressed to something more sinister.

Those at the most risk to this bacteria are young, old and ill dogs. This is because their immune systems are either underdeveloped or weakened. Making them more susceptible to catching the illness and not being able to fight it off. Kennel cough is a broad term describing respiratory illnesses and is not a direct name for Bordetella. Kennel cough is scientifically known as Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (CIDR), also known as the more advanced version of Bordetella.

What are the symptoms of Bordetella in dogs?

Identifying the symptoms of Bordetella in dogs allows us to identify a suffering dog or puppy more quickly. Thereby, we can look for treatment before it can progress to something more serious. The more vulnerable a dog, the quicker this bacteria needs to be identified. Hence why recognizing the symptoms can be lifesaving.

A dry, hacking cough

The cough your dog will produce from Bordetella is aggressive and may sound strained and painful. This cough is often constant, and even when your dog is not directly coughing, they are making noises. The noises may include choking or gagging sounds, sometimes followed by sniffles or whines. You can see these symptoms alongside the cough. So be aware of all these symptoms summarising the severity of the infection.


Bordetella will often lean to signs of lethargy in your dog. They may be sleeping a lot or lack of energy for activities such as walking or playing. This is because the amount of coughing your dog is doing will be tiresome. Furthermore, coughing may often lead to a pulled intercostal muscle, which may be quite painful and therefore reduce mobility further. The coughing will continue even with lethargy, but it will sound strained.


On average, your dog should have a temperature between 101 and 102.5 Fahrenheit. This is higher than humans which will have an average temperature of 97.6 to 99.6 Fahrenheit. If your dog’s temperature is above 102.5, this is classified as fever and can be a symptom of Canine Bordetella. Special dog rectal thermometers can be bought online. They should be inserted about an inch into the anus with a lubricant, and the temperature should be readable after sixty seconds.

Nasal Discharge

Discharge from the nose can be a sign of hayfever, the aftermath of a sneeze or something more serious like Bordetella. The difference is the thickness, color, and frequency of discharge. The thicker the mucus, the more bacteria the body is working to remove. Similarly, if the discharge is green or yellow, this may be a sign of infection. Yellow mucus shows your body is fighting pathogens, green can show a strong infection and reflects the number of dead white cells in the discharge.

Loss of appetite

Whether this symptom is a result of generally feeling unwell, fatigue, excess mucus, etc. Bordetella will often be identifiable from your dog’s lack of appetite.

It is important to remember that your dog may have less interest in food or may not be eating at all. This may not indicate the severity of the Bordetella but instead may be reflectent on your individual. Regardless, a lack of appetite is often a sign that something is wrong with your dog. So always be sure to monitor their appetite.

Wretching and vomiting

It can be distressing as an owner to see your dog wretching to the point of vomiting. This may be a sign that something is seriously wrong, but this is not always the case. The amount of coughing your dog is doing can irritate their throat, diaphragm, and stomach. This, in turn, can lead to vomiting. If you see your dog vomit, always consult a vet as it may be a cause for concern.

However, it is equally likely that it is a side effect of something much less worrying such as Bordetella.

kennel cough vs bordetella in dogs
Kennel Cough is more of a general term for respiratory conditions in dogs. Canine Bordetella is a bacteriological infection.

Diagnosis of Canine Bordetella

The diagnosis of Bordetella in dogs is easily identifiable for professionals. If you are concerned that your dog could be infected, take them straight to the vets. They will observe your pet for a little while, listen to their cough and possibly their chest to help them identify if your dog does have Bordetella.

A dog’s cough is inducible through the vet gently applying pressure to their trachea. If the cough produced is high pitched, this is an obvious sign of the illness. The identification of Bordetella is relatively straight forward. Often your vets may conduct further tests to understand the severity of the bacterial infection.

X-rays, blood tests, and stool analyses can be conducted to help identify the severity of Bordetella. The blood test, also known as a complete blood count (CBC), can be used to identify antibodies in your dog’s system. X-rays can see if your dog has liquid build up in their lungs from excess mucus. It can also identify if Bordetella has developed into kennel cough. Urine and fecal analyses can also be conducted to check for antibodies and pathogens in your dog. Although these tests can often take longer to process so are not as commonly used.

How to Prevent Bordetella in Dogs

Veterinarians identify three ways of preventing your dogs from contracting the Bordetella bacterium:

  1. Cleanliness
  2. Avoidance of unkempt parks
  3. Bordetella vaccine

We recommend the vaccine first and foremost but the prior two solutions do have evidence of benefit. Understand that prevention is not the same as treating the illness. Prevention is dis-allowing the infection to affect your dog in the first place, meaning treatment is not necessary.


By keeping the area your dog lives in clean, this will prevent the bacteria from thriving, and thereby stop them from infecting your dog. Disinfect the floors and surfacing that your dog inhabits to prevent Bordetella living on your house surfaces and being contractible by your dog. Air purifiers can also be beneficial to cleanse your house and stop stale air from accumulating with negative bacteria.

Finally, wipe your dog’s paws with dog-friendly wipes. This can remove any pathogens from being brought into your house and even entering your dog’s system through air contamination or licking their paws.

Avoiding unkempt parks

Cleanliness is a key factor influencing the contraction of Bordatella in dogs. As it is highly contagious, taking your dog to a highly-populated area such as a park is a risk factor within itself. Thereby, having your dog visit an unkempt park is an understandable and recognizable risk.

Take your dog to clean parks and areas to walk them to avoid contraction, also avoiding less populated areas will aid in this goal. Disinfect your yard and home properly, too, especially if you welcomed unknown dogs or animals.

Bordetella vaccine

The best way to prevent your dog from contracting Bordetella is to provide them with the vaccine. The injection is not yet compulsory but is highly recommended, especially for those who have vulnerable or at-risk dogs. The Bordetella vaccine offers three methods of administration:

  1. injectable,
  2. intranasal, and
  3. oral.

The vaccine provides a weakened form of the pathogen, allowing the body to develop antibodies, it’s own form of protection so it can fight off real Bordetella. An injection can be given just under the skin as a vaccine. Boosters are required every six months to a year depending on your individual’s risk factors.

A vet can tell you when to apply for a booster of the Bordetella vaccine. Your dog should receive an annual, oral Bordetella vaccine. It is the cheapest of the three methods, although all three methods cost $30 or less. This is the least invasive method, resulting in no recorded injuries and has the longest follow-up time. Hence why we recommend the oral administration. The intranasal vaccine can be a stressful form of administration, alongside the injection. Both forms can cause minor injury or pain. Furthermore, these require an average of one booster per six months to a year, increasing costs and visits to the vets.

Your puppy can be vaccinated as early as three weeks old with a second dose required two to four weeks after. Following the initial jab, boosters are required to maintain your dog’s antibiotic resistance. This is only accessible through intranasal vaccines. Your puppy will have to be aged six to eight weeks to receive the injection vaccine. Then a booster required at age ten to twelve weeks.

canine bordetella vaccine
There are three ways of preventing dogs from contracting Bordetella: vaccination, cleanliness, and avoidance of dirty parks.

Treatment for Bordetella in Dogs

There are a number of different treatments for Bordetella in dogs. Both used to treat the main bacterial infection and aid with symptoms. Your vet will offer different treatment plans depending on the severity of your dog’s Bordetella. The bacteria of Bordetella will cause a milder form of kennel cough, therefore treating the illness in this stage should prevent the condition from progressing.

Treatment plans will also be different depending on the individual and their risk factors. The age of your dog may mean they have to have different doses of treatments, whether that be higher or lower. Their breed, size and activity levels can also affect the chance of side effects and the probability of certain medication being successful. Vets will be able to recommend the best-personalized plan for your pet so do not attempt to guess as this may lead to improper treatment or side effects.

Another reason you should not attempt to treat your dog’s Bordetella without a vet’s input is that a vet will be able to confirm if your suspicions of Bordetella are correct. Your dog could have a severe case of kennel cough or even an allergic reaction to something in your home, depending on the symptoms presented and their severity. Your dog’s immune system can be affected negatively if you attempt to treat Bordetella when it is not present.


Antibiotics are usually recommended to dogs with a high fever, lethargy, trouble eating or a high amount of nasal discharge. As the side effects can cause your dog to feel unwell while treating the bacterial infection. The antibiotics will destroy the pathogen and allow your dog to create the correct antibodies to defend themselves from the ones who remain.

Usually, vets will prescribe Doxycycline for seven to ten days or Amoxicillin-clavulanic acid as an alternative. Both antibiotic types have been found to work best with respiratory infections.

Both antibiotics come with possible side effects. Doxycycline presents a risk of vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite and diarrhea. The good news with these side effects is that after the prescribed antibiotic time period, you should be able to see if your dog has stopped coughing and has minimal discharge. Therefore you can be aware that if the antibiotics are treating the problem and once they are removed, the side effects will cease. Difficulties with these side effects though include getting your dog to swallow the pills. This is more difficult due to their possible lack of appetite.

Cough Suppressants

Your veterinarian may prescribe cough suppressants to help your dog control their cough while their Bordetella is being treated. The severity of your dog’s cough may cause them to gag and even vomit. This is incredibly unpleasant for you and your dog.

A commonly used cough suppressant is Dextromethorphan. Be aware that cough suppressants should only be used if prescribed by a vet, as the side effects can be severe. Especially if your dog does not require the medication.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C aids with healing and the reproduction of healthy cells and is a much more natural treatment. Therefore, increasing the amount in your dog’s system while they are recovering from Bordetella can be hugely beneficial and speed up the recovery process.

Research different food brands to see which has a naturally higher level of vitamin C and ask your vet if they recommend prescribing your dog vitamin C tablets. Be careful though, excess vitamin C can lead to diarrhea.

Honey & Coconut Oil

Although honey and coconut oil cannot treat Bordetella, it can help reduce pain, inflammation and help with some of the other symptoms. Add a teaspoon of coconut oil and honey to your dog’s meals for as long as they possess their cough and this should help soothe their throat and allow your pup to start feeling better.

Herbal Remedies

Natural remedies can help your dog heal on their own, although only do so with the recommendation of your vet. We recommend adding a little garlic and olive leaf to their meals as these are natural antibacterial agents and will aid with the increase of antibiotic reproduction and attack on Bordetella pathogens.


Vets may advise you to provide your dog with a humidifier for where they sleep. This will help unblock their nose, aid in the movement of mucus through sneezing and coughing and overall help with your dog’s breathing. This can reduce the amount of discomfort they are in and will help them have lower stress levels and sleep better.

canine bordetella recovery
With canine bordetella, symptoms take the longest to heal.

Recovery time from Canine Bordetella

Dogs healing from Canine Bordetella generally have a recovery time ranging from a week to two weeks with an average of ten days.

The recovery time measures how long it will take for the dog to no longer be suffering from Bordetella, but this does not mean all the Bordetella symptoms will be eradicated. For example, your dog’s cough can persist up to three weeks even with the illness being treated. Due to inflammation, it is usually the symptoms that take the longest to heal. Your dog’s appetite should gradually increase with their lethargy slowly lessening. Bear in mind that their cough will be exhausting and until this symptom has gone, your dog may generally still seem under the weather.

Bordetella in Dogs — FAQs

We have explained what Bordetella is, how it is contracted, prevention methods and treatments. But to make sure that we have answered all your questions regarding canine Bordetella, we have found four of the most searched dog Bordetella questions and we aim to answer them here.

Understanding the risks, side effects and contractability of Bordetella can allow us to better protect our dogs, minimize their chances of catching the bacterial infection and keep them feeling well and happy. Read on to find out more!

Is Bordetella fatal in dogs?

The illness Bordetella in itself is not fatal, but it can lead to symptoms or other illnesses which can be, hence why treatment and prevention are so important. If a dog has a number of or one very high-risk factor, such as being a very old dog, Bordetella may lead to some of your dog’s systems shutting down and an eventual fatality. Older dogs will struggle to cough and keep their hydration levels up and may be hospitalized in severe cases. Furthermore, Bordetella may lead to pneumonia which is a more serious illness with much longer recovery time.

Are there side-effects to the Bordetella vaccine?

There are a few side effects to the Bordetella vaccine, regardless of admission (i.e. oral, intranasal or injection). These include:

  • Nasal discharge (especially if it was the nasal vaccine)
  • The injection site will be sore and tender
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

These symptoms are completely normal in your dog as their body will be fighting a weakened or dead form of the pathogen, therefore symptoms are regularly expected. These symptoms can usually last up to a week, so do not be concerned if your dog does not seem themselves for this time period.

If the symptoms last up to two weeks or begin to worsen, such as your dog’s fever increases heavily or your dog refuses to eat completely for multiple days, take them straight to the vets. They may have a mild version of Bordetella which your vet can identify and then recommend the appropriate treatment.

How much does the Bordetella vaccine cost?

The vaccine usually costs around ten to fifteen dollars with an average treatment costing thirty dollars due to it usually needing to be administered twice. Sometimes this price can alter depending on if you bought an at-home administration method such as oral treatment. Or if your dog requires multiple members of staff for admission due to their size or anxiety level, this may increase the price. Furthermore, please note that boosters are required regardless of which method you give your dog the vaccine with, some may require more frequent boosters and therefore the price may increase. Contact your vet for advice.

Can humans catch Bordetella from dogs?

It is very unlikely, although is possible for a human to contract Bordetella from dogs. Being a person with high-risk factors such as a weakened immune system, very old or very young may make you more likely to catch the illness. Similarly, if you do not wash your hands thoroughly after interacting with dogs that have the illness or have had it, you may be at risk. Maintain a high hygiene habit, keep your pets away from infected individuals and if your dog becomes ill, wash your hands regularly and take care of both them and yourself to be safe.

Our dogs are at risk of contracting Canine Bordetella with day to day interactions. With knowledge of the bacterial infection, prevention, contraction and treatment, we are able to prevent our dogs from getting the illness or treat it as soon as possible. This helps to ensure our dogs are spending more of their time as happy and healthy as possible.

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