What Pet Owners Need To Know About The Bordetella Vaccine For Dogs

Dog Care, Dogs

Last Updated - April 19, 2024

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Part of keeping your pet dogs healthy and safe is to vaccinate them appropriately. There are a core set of vaccinations that all dogs and cats should receive, but there are other lifestyle-specific vaccines that pet parents might need to consider. The Bordetella vaccine is an optional lifestyle vaccination. Below, we'll tell you why you might or might not consider a Bordetella vaccination for your dog and what side effects you should expect.

What Is Bordetella?

Bordetella is a bacterial respiratory disease in dogs caused by the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica and causes inflammation of the dog's respiratory system.

The Bordetella bacteria is highly contagious and can be spread through sneezing, coughing, licking, and nuzzling. A dog that contracts Bordetella may show no symptoms whatsoever - or their symptoms could be severe. These symptoms include:

  • Hacking, gagging, persistent cough

  • Runny nose and eyes

  • Mild fever

  • Lethargy

What is Kennel Cough?

Bordetella is often referred to as "kennel cough", although this isn't quite correct. Kennel cough - or, more accurately, Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis - is frequently caused by Bordetella, but they aren't the same. Think of it as somewhat like how, in humans, a run-of-the-mill common cold can escalate into bronchitis.

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness. While the illness itself is not fatal, it can lead to fatal bronchopneumonia, chronic bronchitis, or immunocompromised dogs.

Symptoms of kennel cough include a loud, honking, or hacking cough. In severe cases, a dog may cough up liquid or foam. Some may have sneezing, runny nose, lethargy, fever, or decreased appetite. However, Bordetella pertussis is often confused with kennel cough as the cough sounds similar. Bordetella pertussis causes whooping cough in humans, and kennel cough is limited to dogs (in some cases, cats too).

Why Your Dog May Need Bordetella Vaccination

For most healthy adult dogs, a bout of Bordetella is generally mild. It's what a Bordetella infection can lead to that is concerning. The symptoms can be severe - even deadly.

Bordetella infections do not frequently lead to kennel cough, but most cases of kennel cough start as Bordetella. For this reason, the most effective way to prevent kennel cough is to prevent Bordetella. The Bordetella vaccine doesn't completely prevent transmission or infection, but it greatly reduces the severity of the symptoms and the likelihood that it will develop into kennel cough.

Should My Dog Receive The Bordetella Vaccine?

The Bordetella dog vaccine is not part of the routine course of canine vaccinations because not all dogs have a lifestyle where they would come into contact with the Bordetella bacteria. The Bordetella vaccine is recommended for dogs frequently in close contact with other dogs. This includes:

  • Local dog park

  • Doggy daycares

  • Groomers

  • Training Classes

Keep in mind many dog parks, doggy daycare centers, and training classes will require the Bordetella vaccine right from the start.

Dog vet appointment

Source: Pixabay

When Should My Dog Receive The Bordetella Vaccination?

After your veterinarian learns about your pet's lifestyle, they may recommend that you have your pup vaccinated at two to three months old - or even earlier.

There are two ways the Bordetella vaccine can be administered - through a needle injection or intranasal spray. The injectable Bordetella vaccine isn't a good option for dogs younger than eight weeks old. If your veterinarian recommends vaccinating for Bordetella earlier than eight weeks, they will use the nasal spray bordetella vaccination.

After the initial Bordetella shot, you should have your dog vaccinated with boosters every six to twelve months, depending on their exposure and lifestyle.

What Are The Vaccine Side Effects?

Although the Bordetella vaccine does much to prevent your pet from contracting kennel cough, it does have some side effects that might catch unprepared dog owners off guard. For most dogs, these will be mild adverse reactions that should only last a few days. With each recurring Bordetella booster shot, the side effects will decrease. In rare extreme cases, a serious adverse reaction can occur and may require medical intervention.


The most common side effect of receiving the Bordetella vaccine is a period of lethargy. This is often paired with a very mild fever. The lack of energy isn't a cause for concern but simply a sign that your dog's immune system is working to respond to the vaccination! It is fighting off the very weak Bordetella bacteria introduced in the vaccine, which will help your dog's body quickly recognize and kill the full bacteria in the future.

Lumps + Bumps

If your dog received a Bordetella shot rather than a spray, you might notice localized swelling around the injection site. These can range from a large, soft lump to a small, firm bump. They will likely be tender to the touch, and the limb may be somewhat stiff. This is just skin irritation, which is typically any time the skin is punctured. Keep an eye on the bump, however, so you can monitor for more infection.

Sneezing + Cold Symptoms

Just as lumps are a common side effect of the injected vaccine, cold-like symptoms often accompany the nasal spray version. This is to be expected, as the spray vaccine first comes into contact with the dog's nose and upper respiratory tract and weakened bacteria. These symptoms will go away in a day or two.

What If The Vaccine Side Effects Linger?

Most of the side effects that dogs develop after the Bordetella vaccine can be resolved in a couple of days. However, if the symptoms linger for longer and a cough develops, seek additional medical care from your veterinarian. Likely, your dog struggles to fight off the Bordetella bacterium and might need help to prevent more serious symptoms.

Is There A Risk Of An Allergic Reaction To The Bordetella Vaccine?

The vast majority of dogs benefit from the Bordetella vaccine, with only mild side effects. However, in extremely rare cases, dogs can have severe allergic reactions. Symptoms of an anaphylactic vaccine response include:

  • Swelling of the face

  • Hives

  • Vomiting

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Diarrhea

  • Itchiness

If your dog is allergic to the Bordetella vaccine, these symptoms will typically present themselves within mere minutes or hours of receiving the shot. However, it can take up to two days. If you notice any of these symptoms, take your pet to the veterinarian immediately. They can easily prevent an allergic reaction from becoming serious or life-threatening.

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About the Author

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.