How Bordetella Vaccines Work

By: Charles W. Bryant

Bordetella Vaccines

Most dogs probably prefer the nasal version of the Bordetella vaccine to the sting of the needle.
Most dogs probably prefer the nasal version of the Bordetella vaccine to the sting of the needle.
China Photos/Getty Images

­One way you can help your dog, cat, guinea pig, rabbit or pig avoid kennel cough is by immunizing with the Bordetella vaccine. All vets recommend or require the vaccine, typically five days before your pet stays overnight in a facility. The vaccine is supposed to last up to six months, but is only effective in about 70 percen­t of dogs. So just because your dog has been vaccinated, it can still acquire kennel cough.

Like all vaccines, Bordetella works by injecting a small amount of the bacteria or virus into the bloodstream of the animal. The vaccine can contain one of two things, a living, non-harmful strain of the bacteria or virus that you're safeguarding against or a nonliving, inactive version that can replicate itself in the body. This version is called a killed vaccine. Live vaccines are generally thought to be more effective than killed ones, so the nonliving variety have additives called adjuvants that help to increase their effectiveness.


The idea of a vaccine is that it introduces the body to a virus or bacteria so that the immune system can recognize it and fight against it in the future. If your body has never been exposed to a viral or bacterial agent, it won't understand the best way to fight it. Think of it as a "know your enemy" kind of approach to fighting disease and illness. Once the body finds a new agent to fight, it begins to produce antibodies, a human or animal's "weapon" against virus and bacteria.

There are a couple of options for getting your pet vaccinated. It can either get a shot or a nasal treatment. Your puppy can't get the injectable variety until it's four months old and usually gets booster shots annually. The nasal vaccine can be given to puppies as young as three weeks old. The advantage of the nasal vaccine is that the nose is where most dogs will pick up the disease. There's debate among veterinarians as to which vaccine provides the best protection against kennel cough.

Because kennel cough is typically not life threatening, there is some dispute about whether vets and boarding facilities should require it. Some vets recommend that your dog receive an annual booster while others maintain that if you don't board your dog, then it's not really necessary. New protocols are being initiated in the veterinary community because of criticism of over-vaccinating pets. All vaccines carry a risk of allergic reaction, so talk to your vet about your pet's lifestyle to determine the benefit-risk ratio. If your dog won't be going to a grooming facility, pet show or overnight boarding house, then it may not be worth the risk or expense to get it boosted.

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More Great Links


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