Spotting telltale Bordetella symptoms

Bordetella, also known as kennel cough, affects the trachea and produces symptoms ranging from honking coughs to nasal discharges. In more severe cases, fever can result. Seek medical advice if you're unsure if your pet has Bordetella or you're worried about your furry friend.

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Spotting telltale Bordetella symptoms
  • Companion animals can fall prey to Bordetella, AKA kennel cough, which attacks the respiratory system.
  • A persistent cough due to windpipe damage can be the first sign, plus intranasal issues and eye discharges.
  • Several preventative and curative measures are available, such as vaccination and antibiotics.
  • You and your pet can ward off the worst Bordetella can throw at you with care and attention.

Bordetella: FAQs

  • What are the symptoms of Bordetella in dogs?

    Bordetella affects the respiratory tract, so the most common symptoms are a distinctive honking cough and retching. Milder cases usually include eye and nose discharges. More severe cases can also include a drop in energy, appetite loss, and fever. Bordetella infections can be severe, and even milder cases can result in discomfort for your pet.

  • Does Bordetella go away on its own?

    If a pet is otherwise healthy or young, mild cases of Bordetella can disappear independently. However, a lot will depend on how healthy your pet's immune system is, so if you have reason to believe it's not optimal due to a recent illness, for instance, you should seek medical advice. Always ask a vet if you're in any doubt.

  • Is there a cure for Bordetella in dogs?

    Bordetella in dogs can lead to severe cases of canine infectious tracheobronchitis. An infected dog can end up very ill indeed. However, there are cures, even for severe cases. Antibiotics can be effective in treating this form of canine infectious respiratory disease. Additionally, you can reduce the likelihood of infection by getting your dog dosed with the Bordetella vaccine ahead of likely exposure, such as in dog shows, dog daycare, or even some dog parks).

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Bordetella is not much fun for any species but is terrible for our canine pals. And it's no pleasure cruise for cats, either. Best known as kennel cough, Bordetella is a bacterial infection that can manifest itself as a wholly unpleasant respiratory disease.

Let's review the symptoms so that you can immediately diagnose and apply a remedy. The good news is that there are treatments you can use, and with patience, your pet will recover.

But first, the symptoms.

What is Bordetella and how can you tell if your pet has it?

Here are the most common symptoms to look out for. Note that any of these could be symptomatic of another condition, so don't jump to conclusions. If, however, your pet has some or all of these and has spent some time in the prolonged company of pets from other households, then Bordetella is likely.

  1. Repetitive dry cough
  2. Coughing up white foam
  3. Runny nose
  4. Eye discharge
  5. Sneezing

These first five tend to present with milder cases. In these instances, an animal's appetite remains good, and energy levels will stay normal. Symptoms can worsen, however, with exercise. Symptoms will also worsen with more severe cases, at which point you might witness the following:

6. Low energy levels
7. Drop in appetite
8. Fever

Let's look at each of these in detail.

1. Repetitive dry cough

The first symptom you'll often notice is a cough. But we're not talking a polite throat clearer. It's a hacking cough with added retching or gagging. The noise of the cough itself can be described as a honking sound, quite echoey and distinctive, like a goose with a megaphone. If this description reminds you of whooping cough, the scourge of babies (and their parents), then you're onto something: a related bacterium causes it.

It can often sound like your pet has something stuck in its throat and is trying to cough up the obstruction. Of course, you need to be sure that this isn't the problem, so look in your pet's mouth to see if there's anything in there that shouldn't be.

2. Coughing up white foam

Sometimes, it won't just be a dry cough but will instead be a respiratory spasm that will produce a moderate amount of foamy mucus. You can help by ensuring that this doesn't stay around the mouth or nose area: the last thing you or your pet needs is for it to be re-inhaled via reverse sneezing. So, use an alcohol-free wet wipe and clean around the area to deter further respiration blockages.

3. Runny nose

"But my dog's nose is always runny," you may proclaim. However, we're not talking just about a lovely, healthy, shiny nose that leaves the odd imprint on your wallpaper and clothes. No, we're talking here about a more productive situation altogether. It's often a full-on watery nasal discharge and will require some wiping and cleaning from you. Note that your pet might be feeling especially sensitive around the nose, just like when we get sinusitis.

4. Eye discharge

This is usually in the form of "gunky eyes," so you'll probably see a certain amount of mucus affecting one or both eyes. You may also see some pus, which tends to have a stronger color.

You can make your pet more comfortable by cleaning the affected eye with a cotton bud and a vet-supplied cleaning product. Try low-concentration saline or unadulterated water if you're stuck for something to use.

Hold the wet cotton bud against crusty bits around the eye to soften them; they'll come off far more quickly. Another point to remember: the wiping direction should be outward from the middle of the eye. Do otherwise, and you may spread the infection.

5. Sneezing

Some pets sneeze more than others. Some dogs spend a lot of time doing it. It's only to be expected when you stick your nose into a parade of things all day, every day. Sneezing is a normal response to an alien body caught in a nasal chamber, and it helps to keep a nose healthy.

But if the sneezing is persistent and repeated, it may indicate something untoward, and Bordetella is possible. As with gunky eyes, you can help comfort your pet by wiping any mucus around the snout with an alcohol-free wet wipe.

6. Low energy levels

Again, some pets sleep more than others. Some dogs, for instance, will happily sleep all day before going to bed for a sound night's sleep. Others only need a short power nap before they're back in action, pacing the room on the lookout for fun and stimulation. So, it's all about comparing how your pet is now to how they usually are.

If your pet is showing significantly reduced energy levels and one or more of the above symptoms, then Bordetella or something else serious is likely.

7. Drop in appetite

You can usually spot trouble if a dog is off their food. Most dogs will not need to hear the dinner gong twice, so if they suddenly start turning food down, it's pretty clear that something's up. On the other hand, cats can be very picky in any case, so it's sometimes hard to detect if they're off their food. It's a good idea to try them with their favorite tidbits, just to be sure it isn't that they're just not into what you've been giving them for dinner.

8. Fever

Fever is always a red line, just as it is for our general health. Fever can include unresponsiveness, shallow (or labored) breathing, and, most tellingly, a heightened temperature. Feverish symptoms can come from causes other than Bordetella, but whatever it is, you need to get it looked at fast. So get your pet to a vet with all due haste.

What causes Bordetella?

As mentioned, Bordetella spreads when pets from different households spend prolonged time together. This is why it's usefully also known as kennel cough. Quite often, it's seen in dogs who have been in boarding facilities, from animal hospitals to doggy daycare, either in direct contact or close enough to other dogs for the bacteria to spread. A common cause is sharing food and water bowls, so look out for this.

The Bordetella bacteria cause infectious tracheobronchitis, a respiratory infection that can also affect humans. The parainfluenza virus can also cause bronchitis, which can again be spread very quickly through a boarding facility.

How do you treat Bordetella?

Quite often, Bordetella will get better by itself, particularly in young, healthy animals. However, you should seek medical advice if you have a more frail creature or persistently see a loss of appetite, a drop in energy levels, and if your pet is feverish.

If the cough is relatively mild, vets usually prescribe a cough suppressant. They may also suggest a bronchodilator or spending time in a steamy shower room to assist breathing.

In more severe cases, vets usually prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection, which you must administer until the end of the course. If you have a dog, this is generally easy - a tablet in a piece of cheese usually finds its way to its target zone in short order. A cat can be a more challenging customer, so ask your vet if they have a pill dispenser. In practiced hands, these can be invaluable.

If you feel that your pet's Bordetella symptoms are only mild and you're prepared to wait it out, ensure they have plenty of fresh water and keep them clean and away from other animals. Bordetella can be passed on up to 14 weeks after symptoms have disappeared, so you're in for a long haul.

There is a kennel cough vaccine. It doesn't completely prevent infection, but it does make it less likely and can reduce symptom levels.

Beating Bordetella

Now that you know what to look out for, you should be in an excellent position to deal with things should your pet develop any symptoms of kennel cough. 

But beating Bordetella involves more than just dealing with symptoms and attempting cures. We must also be mindful of ways to prevent its spread. So, vaccination is a good idea, as is checking any boarding kennels, training classes, or groomers you plan on using to see what is in place to combat the spread of the disease.

Finally, if your pet develops any Bordetella symptoms, contact a vet. As always, if you're in any doubt, you should always seek medical advice.

Image Credit: Kat Smith at pexels

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