Bordetella in Dogs

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

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Bordetella is a bacterial infection that contributes to kennel cough in dogs. Characterized by a "goose honking" cough and nasal discharge, Bordetella usually resolves without treatment. Dogs catch Bordetella from other dogs in group settings, so vaccinating your dog against this bacteria is a good idea before boarding, grooming appointments, training classes, or socializing at dog parks.

What Is Bordetella?

Bordetella is the common name for an infection caused by Bordetella bronchieseptica bacteria. Bordatella is commonly associated with kennel cough and the terms are often used interchangeably, but "kennel cough" technically refers to tracheobronchitis, an inflammatory condition that causes a persistent cough. and can be caused by other bacterial and viral agents.

Symptoms of Bordetella in Dogs

Bordetella symptoms are specific to the respiratory system but can also cause generalized signs of illness. They can be particularly severe in puppies under six months old. Any or all of the following may be present:


  • Persistent coughing (often with a "honking" sound)
  • Nasal discharge ranging from clear to green in color
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

Most symptoms of Bordatella are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses, some of which may be more dangerous, so veterinary evaluation is important.

The time from exposure to Bordetella and a dog showing the active symptoms can be 2 days to 2 weeks. 

Causes of Bordetella

Your dog can become infected with Bordetella after it is exposed to and inhales the respiratory secretions of an infected dog. When inhaled, the bacteria bind to the delicate cilia fibers lining the respiratory tract and cause infection. This commonly happens in one of the following situations:

  • Your dog touches noses with an infected dog (even in passing).
  • An infected dog barks or coughs near your dog.
  • Your dog shares a bowl or toys with an infected dog.
  • Your dog shares a confined space with an infected dog.

Diagnosing Bordetella in Dogs

Diagnosing a Bordetella infection (or kennel cough) involves a physical examination, taking a dog’s temperature, and listening to the chest for any sounds of fluid. Clinical signs of coughing, fever, and nasal discharge are usually enough confirmation for a diagnosis of Bordetella.

To definitively diagnose the presence of the bacteria, though, a nasal swab can be submitted to a reference lab for PCR testing, a process where the DNA on the swab is evaluated for the specific genetic signature of the infection. 


Bordetella can typically resolve without intervention but antibiotics such as doxycycline can help speed recovery. Medications to decrease coughing may also be prescribed to improve a dog’s comfort and prevent inflammation. If a dog is reluctant to eat, adding warm water to canned food will help increase the appetizing scent and encourage eating.

Within two days of initiating antibiotics, a dog should start to visibly improve. If not, then being re-evaluated is imperative to make sure pneumonia has not developed. The kennel cough complex may involve more than one organism in addition to Bordetella, including viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics.

In more severe cases a dog may need to be hospitalized and have intravenous fluids support and antibiotics and or oxygen therapy.

Prognosis for Dogs with Bordetella

Dogs can develop pneumonia if Bordetella is left untreated, but this infection usually resolves without concern.

How to Prevent Bordetella in Dogs

Preventing Bordetella can be easier than treating it. Bordetella vaccines exist and are routinely included in the first set of vaccines for both adopted dogs and puppies acquired through breeders. The most common vaccine protects against Bordetella bronchiseptica, but vaccines also exist that combine Bordetella protection with canine parainfluenza protection. 

Is Bordetella Contagious to Other Animals?

Bordetella is highly contagious to other dogs, so most reputable boarding facilities require vaccination before dogs can visit.

Article Sources
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  1. Diagnostic and Therapeutic Approach: Dogs Infected with Bordetella bronchiseptica and Canine Influenza Virus (H3N8). Today's Veterinary Practice.