Bordetella, a genus of bacteria, has gained significant attention due to its role in causing respiratory infections in various animals, including humans. In this article, we will delve into the world of Bordetella, exploring its characteristics, infections it causes, prevention methods, and much more.

fawn pug puppy suffred with Bordetella, laying on ground

Introduction to Bordetella

Bordetella is a genus of bacteria that has captured the attention of researchers and medical professionals alike. These small, Gram-negative bacteria primarily inhabit the respiratory tracts of mammals, including humans. While some members of the Bordetella genus are harmless, others have gained notoriety for their ability to cause respiratory infections.

Types of Bordetella Bacteria

Within the Bordetella genus, several distinct species exist, each with its unique characteristics and implications for health. The most prominent species include:

  • Bordetella pertussis: This bacterium is infamous for causing pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. Pertussis infections can be particularly severe, especially in infants and young children, leading to prolonged bouts of coughing and respiratory distress.
  • Bordetella parapertussis: Similar to B. pertussis, this species also contributes to whooping cough, albeit in a milder form. While the symptoms may be less severe, parapertussis infections can still result in considerable discomfort and respiratory issues.
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica: Unlike the previous two species, B. bronchiseptica primarily affects animals. It is a common cause of respiratory infections in various mammals, including dogs, cats, and even some livestock. In dogs, it is associated with kennel cough.
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Respiratory Infections Caused by Bordetella

Bordetella Pertussis and Pertussis Infections

Bordetella pertussis is notorious for causing pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. This highly contagious bacterial infection affects the respiratory tract, leading to severe coughing fits that are often accompanied by a distinctive "whooping" sound during inhalation.

Bordetella Parapertussis Infections

Similar to B. pertussis, Bordetella parapertussis can cause a milder form of whooping cough. The symptoms are less severe but still include coughing and respiratory distress.

Bordetella Bronchiseptica Infections

Bordetella bronchiseptica primarily affects animals, including dogs, cats, and other mammals. It can lead to respiratory infections, including kennel cough in dogs.

Transmission and Symptoms

Transmission of Bordetella Infections

Bordetella bronchiseptica, the bacteria responsible for causing respiratory issues in dogs, is highly contagious. The transmission primarily occurs through the inhalation of respiratory droplets released by infected dogs when they cough, sneeze, or engage in close interactions. Consequently, environments where dogs congregate, such as kennels, dog parks, and grooming facilities, become potential breeding grounds for the bacteria's spread.

Symptoms of Bordetella Infections

The symptoms of Bordetella infections in dogs can vary in severity but often include:

  • Persistent Coughing: A persistent, harsh cough is a hallmark of Bordetella infections. The cough may sound dry and hacking, as if the dog is attempting to clear its throat.
  • Nasal Discharge: Some dogs may develop a runny nose or nasal discharge.
  • Sneezing: Sneezing may be observed, accompanied by other respiratory symptoms.
  • Lethargy: Infected dogs might exhibit lethargy, reduced energy levels, and overall sluggishness.
  • Appetite Changes: A decrease in appetite is common, as dogs might be less interested in food due to respiratory discomfort.

Diagnosis and Medical Considerations

Diagnostic Process

Veterinarians employ a combination of methods to diagnose Bordetella infections in dogs:

  • Clinical Evaluation: A thorough physical examination, including an assessment of the dog's medical history and symptoms, is essential for an accurate diagnosis.
  • Diagnostic Tests: Swab samples collected from the dog's respiratory tract can be subjected to various diagnostic tests, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays, to identify the presence of Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Medical Considerations and Treatment

Once diagnosed, appropriate medical considerations and treatment steps are implemented:

  • Isolation: Infected dogs should be isolated to prevent the spread of the infection to other canines.
  • Rest and Hydration: Rest and proper hydration play a pivotal role in the recovery process.
  • Antibiotics: In some cases, antibiotics might be prescribed to combat the bacterial infection and alleviate symptoms.
  • Supportive Care: Supportive care, such as using humidifiers to ease breathing, may be recommended to enhance comfort during recovery.

Understanding the transmission, symptoms, diagnosis, and medical aspects of Bordetella infections in dogs is vital for dog owners and veterinary professionals alike. By recognizing the signs early, seeking prompt veterinary attention, and implementing preventive measures, we can ensure the well-being and respiratory health of our beloved canine companions.

Prevention and Vaccination

Preventing Bordetella infections in dogs is a proactive approach that involves vaccination and various preventive measures. In this segment, we'll delve into the importance of vaccination, the different types of vaccines available, and additional steps you can take to safeguard your furry friend's respiratory health.


The Vital Role of Vaccination

Vaccination stands as a cornerstone in protecting dogs from the potentially debilitating effects of Bordetella infections. The Bordetella vaccine, often referred to as the "kennel cough vaccine," works by stimulating the immune system to recognize and combat the bacteria. This immunity provides a robust defense against infection or lessens the severity of symptoms if infection occurs.

Types of Bordetella Vaccines

Two primary types of vaccines are commonly used to prevent Bordetella infections:

  • Intranasal Vaccine: Administered through the dog's nose, this vaccine stimulates local immunity in the respiratory tract, providing rapid protection against infection. It's often preferred for its quick response.
  • Injectable Vaccine: Given as an injection under the dog's skin, this vaccine provides systemic immunity against Bordetella. It's commonly included in combination vaccines that protect against multiple pathogens.

Vaccine Schedules

The vaccination schedule for Bordetella varies based on factors such as the dog's age, lifestyle, and risk of exposure. Puppies are typically started on their vaccination regimen around 6 to 8 weeks of age, with boosters given every few weeks until they're around 16 weeks old. Adult dogs may receive booster shots annually or as recommended by their veterinarian.

Additional Preventive Measures

Hygiene and Environment

Practicing good hygiene and maintaining a clean environment can reduce the risk of Bordetella transmission:

  • Regular Cleaning: Disinfecting dog bowls, interactive dog toys, and bedding can help prevent the accumulation and spread of bacteria.
  • Avoid Crowded Places: Limiting exposure to crowded dog spaces, especially in areas where Bordetella is prevalent, can lower the risk of infection.

Isolation and Quarantine

If your dog shows signs of respiratory illness, isolating them from other dogs is crucial to prevent the potential spread of infection. Similarly, if your dog has been diagnosed with a Bordetella infection, quarantine is essential until they are no longer contagious.

Prompt Veterinary Care

If you suspect your dog has contracted a Bordetella infection or if they display any symptoms, seeking veterinary care promptly is essential. Veterinarians can accurately diagnose the condition and recommend the most appropriate course of action.

Preventing Bordetella infections requires a multi-pronged approach that combines vaccination, hygiene, and prudent management. By staying up-to-date with vaccinations, practicing good hygiene, and seeking prompt veterinary care, you can provide your furry friend with the best chance of avoiding or effectively managing Bordetella infections.

Bordetella Beyond Humans: Animal Infections

While Bordetella infections are commonly associated with humans, animals are not immune to their effects. Bordetella bronchiseptica, in particular, has the potential to cause respiratory infections in various animals, including:

  • Dogs: B. bronchiseptica is a frequent culprit behind kennel cough, causing coughing and discomfort.
  • Cats: Cats can also contract respiratory infections from B. bronchiseptica, leading to symptoms like sneezing and nasal discharge.
  • Livestock: Certain livestock species, such as pigs and rabbits, can also fall victim to respiratory issues caused by Bordetella infections.

Comparing Bordetella with Other Respiratory Pathogens

Differentiating Bordetella infections from other respiratory pathogens is essential for accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment. When compared to other pathogens like viruses, such as canine influenza and feline herpesvirus, Bordetella infections exhibit distinct characteristics:

  • Bacterial Nature: Unlike viral infections, Bordetella infections are caused by bacteria, making them susceptible to antibiotics.
  • Coughing: Bordetella infections, especially in dogs, often manifest with a characteristic cough, setting them apart from other pathogens.
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Public Health Concerns and Outbreaks

Bordetella infections, particularly in animal populations, can have repercussions for public health. Factors contributing to public health concerns include:

  • Zoonotic Potential: While rare, certain Bordetella species can potentially transmit from animals to humans, emphasizing the importance of good hygiene.
  • Highly Contagious: The highly contagious nature of Bordetella infections among animals can lead to outbreaks in settings like animal shelters and kennels.
  • Healthcare Burden: Outbreaks can strain veterinary resources and lead to economic implications due to increased medical care demands.

Promoting Respiratory Health: Tips and Hygiene

Easing fear at the vet

Scheduling regular visits to the veterinarian is fundamental for monitoring your pet's overall health, including their respiratory well-being. These visits allow veterinarians to assess any potential issues and recommend appropriate preventive measures.


Vaccination plays a pivotal role in preventing Bordetella infections and other respiratory diseases. Ensuring your pet's vaccinations are up-to-date is essential for building immunity against these potential threats.

Clean and Hygienic Living Spaces

Maintaining a clean living environment is crucial for minimizing the risk of infections. Regularly clean your pet's bedding, puzzle toys, and dog food bowls to prevent the buildup of bacteria and pathogens.

Avoid Crowded Spaces

Limiting your pet's exposure to crowded places, especially those frequented by multiple animals, can significantly reduce the risk of respiratory infections. These areas can be hotspots for the transmission of bacteria and viruses.

Respiratory Etiquette

Just as humans cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, teaching your pet to practice respiratory etiquette can help prevent the spread of potential pathogens. This can be particularly useful when you suspect your pet might be ill.

Proper Ventilation

Ensuring proper ventilation in your home helps maintain fresh air and reduces the concentration of airborne contaminants. Adequate ventilation can contribute to a healthier respiratory environment for your pet.

Busting Common Myths About Bordetella


Myth 1: "Only Unvaccinated Dogs Get Kennel Cough"

Reality: While vaccination significantly reduces the risk of severe infection, vaccinated dogs can still contract Bordetella infections, albeit often with milder symptoms.

Myth 2: "Indoor Dogs Don't Need Vaccination"

Reality: Even indoor dogs can be exposed to Bordetella bacteria, making vaccination recommended for all dogs to provide comprehensive protection.

Myth 3: "Kennel Cough Is Always Mild and Harmless"

Reality: While kennel cough is often mild, it can lead to discomfort and complications, especially in young puppies, senior dogs, and those with weakened immune systems.

Myth 4: "Vaccines Are Only for Puppies"

Reality: Dogs of all ages, including adults, need regular vaccinations to maintain immunity against Bordetella infections and other diseases.

Myth 5: "Vaccines Can Cause Kennel Cough"

Reality: Vaccines do not cause kennel cough. Occasionally, vaccinated dogs may experience mild symptoms due to factors unrelated to the vaccine itself.

Future Research and Innovations

The realm of respiratory health, including the understanding and management of Bordetella infections, continues to evolve through ongoing research and innovative solutions. In this section, we'll explore the potential avenues for future research and the exciting innovations that could transform the landscape of respiratory health for animals and humans alike.

Future Research Directions

Genetic Variability of Bordetella

Exploring the genetic diversity of different Bordetella species can provide insights into their virulence, transmission dynamics, and potential to adapt to changing environments. Understanding genetic variability could contribute to more targeted diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.

Zoonotic Potential

Further investigations into the zoonotic potential of Bordetella species can shed light on the mechanisms and likelihood of transmission from animals to humans. This research could guide public health measures and preventive strategies.

Immune Response Studies

Studying the immune response elicited by Bordetella infections can offer a deeper understanding of how the immune system interacts with these bacteria. This knowledge could inform the development of more effective vaccines and treatments.

Innovations on the Horizon

Personalized Vaccines

Advancements in vaccine technology could pave the way for personalized vaccines tailored to an individual's immune response. This approach could enhance vaccine efficacy and reduce the risk of breakthrough infections.

Nanotechnology for Diagnosis

Nanotechnology-based diagnostic tools could enable rapid and sensitive detection of Bordetella infections. These innovations could provide quick results, facilitating timely interventions.


One Health Approach

The One Health approach, which considers the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health, could lead to comprehensive strategies for preventing and managing Bordetella infections across species.

The Path Forward

As we look to the future, collaboration between researchers, veterinarians, and medical professionals will play a crucial role in advancing our understanding of Bordetella infections. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies, embracing interdisciplinary approaches, and prioritizing preventive measures, we can shape a future where respiratory health is optimized for both animals and humans.


In conclusion, Bordetella bacteria play a significant role in causing respiratory infections in both humans and animals. Understanding the various species, transmission methods, symptoms, diagnosis, and preventive measures is essential for promoting respiratory health and preventing the spread of infections.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1: Can adults get whooping cough?

  • Yes, adults can contract whooping cough, and vaccination is recommended to prevent it.

Q2: Is Bordetella bronchiseptica only a concern for pets?

  • While B. bronchiseptica is common in animals, it can rarely infect humans with weakened immune systems.

Q3: What is the difference between pertussis and parapertussis infections?

  • Pertussis causes more severe symptoms compared to parapertussis, which leads to a milder form of whooping cough.

Q4: Are there natural remedies for Bordetella infections?

  • While antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment, natural remedies can complement medical care but should not replace it.

Q5: How often do I need a pertussis booster shot?

  • Boosters are recommended every 10 years to maintain immunity against Bordetella pertussis.