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Understanding the Dog Bordetella Shot

Updated on September 7, 2013
Does your dog need the bordetella vaccine?
Does your dog need the bordetella vaccine? | Source

What Exactly is Dog Bordetella?

Also known as kennel cough, or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, bordetella is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection in dogs caused by the bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica and often a combination of other viruses such as parainfluenza virus. The term kennel cough was coined because this condition can be quickly spread in dogs kept in close quarters such as when boarded in a kennel or shelter.

Just as in the common cold in humans, this condition is spread through airborne droplets containing viruses and bacteria which are dispersed when the animal is sneezing and coughing. However, contact with contaminated surfaces may expose the dog as well to these viruses and bacteria .

The incubation period is typically 3 to 4 days but can be up to 10 to 14 days. This is the time between exposure to the bacteria and the onset of symptoms. In most cases, affected dogs develop inflammation of the voice box and windpipe which leads to a dry, hacking cough accompanied by sneezing, snorting, retching and even gagging and vomiting of a white, foamy phlegm, but in some cases the cough may evolve and develop into pneumonia. These symptoms are often more prominent when the dog is excited or after exercise. Slight pressure over the trachea area may also trigger a bout of coughing.

Treatment consists of a course of antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection. Cough suppressants are often prescribed. Affected dogs may be ill up to 3 weeks, but it may just last between 4 and 14 days.

Dog bordetella shot: is it really necessary?
Dog bordetella shot: is it really necessary? | Source

About the Bordetella Shot

The bordetella shot is a non-core vaccination. What this means is that this shot isn't a core vaccine that is typically recommended for all puppies and dogs because of a diseases' significant morbidity and high mortality rates. However, dog kennels, grooming centers, training facilities and day care centers may require that you provide proof of this vaccination in order for you to use their services.

The bordetella shot can be given in two ways: by injection under the skin or intranasally by squirting the vaccine up the dog's nostril. Puppies as young as 3 weeks can get the intranasal vaccine, while the injection form can be given around 6 to 8 weeks followed often by a second booster shot a few weeks later. Depending on exposure risk, dogs may be vaccinated once or twice a year.

If you are debating about getting this shot, you may find it helpful learning as much as you can. Here are a few interesting things you need to be aware of.

1) May Not Prevent Kennel Cough

You vaccinate your dog in hopes of preventing diseases, but what if you learned that vaccinations aren't that effective as thought? Vaccination often gives people a false sense of security, when there's nothing really 100 percent effective. Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't vaccinate your dog--core vaccines have dramatically helped reduce deadly diseases-, it just means that you must be aware of the fact that no vaccine is fail proof. In the case of bordetella, consider that there are at least forty different agents capable of causing Bordetella. Only two of these agents are contained in the intranasal vaccine, therefore, the Bordetella vaccine is ultimately a shot in the dark (yes, pun intended!). This explains why immunology specialist Dr. Ronald Schultz claims: “Kennel Cough is not a vaccinatable disease.”

2) May Cause Kennel Cough- Like Symptoms

It may be surprising to learn that the annoying symptoms you are vaccinating your dog against in the first place, may pop up right after the vaccination! According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), “Transient (3–10 days) coughing, sneezing, or nasal discharge may occur in a small percentage of vaccinates.”While unlikely, it's good to be informed about this. You can read about a dog getting these symptoms after being given the intranasal vaccination by reading this interesting post with an answer from veterinarian Eric Barchas: Can Kennel Cough Vaccines Cause Coughing?

3) For Dogs Who Congregate Closely

Generally, this vaccination is for dogs who are congregated together in tight spaces and in close quarters. The lack of good ventilation, potential poor sanitation, along with overcrowding and stress are the triggers. It's just like the human cold which is likely transmitted to people at the workplace where dozens of people are exposed to each other in a small office area and those with a compromised immune system are those who quickly get sick. Dr Eric Barchas claims " I generally do not recommend kennel cough vaccines unless dogs are staying in a boarding facility that requires them --and even then, I don't truly recommend vaccination-- instead, I recommend finding a facility that doesn't require them. "

So why do kennel owners, trainers, day care owners and groomers ask for proof of vaccination? Most likely, it's more of a liability issue. They are concerned that you may take the legal route and sue them for causing their dogs to become ill. This is why when owners decline vaccinations for their dogs, the word declined is put in their chart. It's proof that they were made aware of the risks involved of not vaccinating so they are fully responsible should their un-vaccinated dog get sick. Because, yes, we live in a litigious society, and it has happened in the past that somebody threatened to sue a vet for not informing them about the risks in not vaccinating a dog for certain diseases.

Note: if a kennel owner is very strict, you can always ask if he's open to make you sign a a waiver where you state you were made aware of the risks your dog could get kennel cough, and that you accept those risks of your dog falling ill.

4) It's Usually a Self-Limited Disease

There 's a good reason why the kennel cough vaccination isn't categorized as a core vaccine. Kennel cough sounds worst than what it is--at least vets try to make it sound that way. In reality, it's the canine equivalent of a cold. Affected dogs develop a cough, which can be annoying but usually resolves withing a couple of weeks. Reputable vaccination scientist, Dr. Ronald Schultz, claims “Many animals receive “kennel cough” vaccines that include Bordetella and CPI and/or CAV-2 every 6 to 9 months without evidence that this frequency of vaccination is necessary or beneficial. In contrast, other dogs are never vaccinated for kennel cough and disease is not seen." He further adds "Kennel cough is not a vaccine preventable disease because of the complex factors associated with this disease. Furthermore, this is often a mild to moderate self limiting disease. I refer to it as the ‘Canine Cold.’”

5) It Doesn't Work Right Away!

Be wary of kennel owners who tell you to vaccinate your dog a day prior to boarding. Keep in mind that it takes time for vaccinations to be effective. If your vet gives the shot under the skin is may take at least 5 days and up to 10-14 days for it to be effective before potential exposure. If your vet gives the intranasal form though consider that it may result in quicker protection, explains veterinarian Dawn Ruben in an article for Pet Place.

6) Your Dog was Already Exposed to it

Get ready for this: most likely than not, your dog has been already exposed to bacteria and viruses known for causing kennel cough. If your dog has ever stepped into a vet clinic most likely he was already exposed to Bordetella bronchiseptica and Parainfluenza, explains Patricia Monahan Jordan, a graduate of the North Carolina College of Veterinary Medicine in an article for Dogs Naturally Magazine. Yes, staff will clean and disinfect examination tables right after each visit and floors at the end of the day, but dogs can still be exposed to bordetella at the vet, just as you can be exposed to germs known for causing colds at a hospital. Also, keep in mind that a recently vaccinated dog may shed bacteria for seven weeks in the case of bordetella and for one week in the case of parainfluenza.


As seen, there are several interesting facts about the bordetella shot that are not well known. Hopefully, you'll be able to make an informed decision about your pet without putting his health at stake. Considering the dog's likelihood of exposure, age, health status and best interest should be the main practice. Over vaccination is a serious issue, but it cannot be ignored the fact that certain vaccines have helped keep at bay serious deadly diseases in dogs such as parvo, rabies and distemper. Yet, bordetella seems to not be one of them.


Disclaimer: this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice. It's only a summary of my research conducted on the topic. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.

Alexadry© All rights reserved, do not copy.


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    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Thank you for this explanation. My dogs have gotten this shot before, but I never really questioned what it was all about.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

      Interesting Hub! I put my pitbull through a training class and he needed this shot as well as others. I rescued an elderly dog once that came to me with a cough. He refused to eat dog food. I learned to make homemade dog food. I can't recall what it was, but there was a vitamin that was good for the cough. It began with an L and I found it in a multi-vitamin. I don't recall how long it took, but whatever it was it worked.

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