Canine Bordetella Explained

Canine bordetella is a bacterium that infects the upper respiratory system in dogs. It is one of the pathogens responsible for the common canine upper respiratory condition known as kennel cough, which is analogous to the common cold in humans, except that bordetella is sometimes slightly more serious in dogs than the common cold is in people. The worst-case scenario for a dog with a bordetella infection is pneumonia, which could be a serious complication if left untreated.

How Do Dogs Contract Bordetella?

The bordetella virus is an airborne pathogen, which means it can spread from dog to dog through the air. Bordetella infections are most likely to arise in a dog after close contact with many other dogs, such as if the dog is exposed to other dogs in a confining kennel for an extended period. Individual bordetella bacteria dislodge from the back of an infected dog’s throat when the dog sneezes or coughs, and are carried through the air. If one of these free floating bacteria somehow makes its way into the respiratory system of another dog, it will settle in and start to reproduce, eventually growing in population until there are enough living there to call the dog infected. This is a very efficient way to transmit an infection between organisms, which explains why the bacterium is so contagious.

Symptoms of Bordetella

The most prominent symptoms are severe coughing, sneezing, or gagging. Some reports say that dogs infected with bordetella frequently make noises that sound like they have something stuck in their throats. The most common symptom of bordetella is a persistent cough, and many infected dogs do not display any other symptoms. It's possible for other, more serious complications to arise, such as pneumonia, in which case the dog will require hospitalization.

Treatment of Bordetella

Bordetella infections in dogs are usually treated with antibiotics and cough suppressants. Antibiotics are poisonous to bacteria, but not to dogs, so when they are added into an infected dog’s body, they kill the invasive bacteria and leave the dog’s body unharmed. While cough suppressants do not help the dog’s body fight off the infection directly, they are useful in the treatment of canine bordetella infections, because they relieve some of the symptoms. There is a bordetella vaccine available for dogs that can permanently reinforce the dog’s immune system against it, and it can reduce a dog’s chances of contracting the disease to almost zero.

The bacterium responsible for canine bordetella infections usually only causes minor discomfort for the dog, but can potentially cause serious harm if an advanced condition is left untreated. If you notice some of the symptoms of a bordetella infection in your pet, it's usually safe to wait for the disease to resolve itself. Because of the uncommon occurrence of more serious health complications in dogs infected with bordetella, it's always recommended to keep a close eye out for worse symptoms.