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Bordetella: what pet owners should know

What IS it?

Kennel cough is the generic name for an upper respiratory infection in dogs and is sometimes referred to as ‘Bordetella.’ However, Bordetella only refers to one of the bacteria that can cause an upper respiratory infection (which includes symptoms like a hacking cough and nasal discharge). Dogs that are most susceptible to kennel cough are young puppies, older or stressed animals, or dogs that have a compromised immune system for another reason. Most healthy dogs with robust immune systems will usually fight off a bacterial or viral infection in seven to ten days, just like a human with a cold. Also like the human flu, Kennel Cough is airborne and transfers easily from dog to dog through sneezing, nasal discharge or saliva, making it a highly contagious disease.

What do pet owners need to know about the Bordetella vaccine?

The Kennel Cough vaccine is not part of a dog’s ‘core’ vaccinations. It is important to take into account each dog as an individual, her social habits, and her general health. If she is consistently exposed to situations in which she will come into close contact with other dogs like boarding facilities or dog parks, then the owner may decide to vaccinate or she may decide to sign a waiver (if available) and take a chance. If an owner chooses vaccination, the intranasal vaccine (which is squirted up the nose) is more effective than a shot, and research points to it being slightly safer than the injection.

After vaccination, the pet must be separated from other dogs for seven to ten days. Like all vaccines, the Bordetella vaccine prompts the dog’s immune system to create antibodies by using live and dead bacterial and viral material, which means your dog will be contagious to other pets for a period of time. Your pet may also exhibit some Bordetella-like symptoms (such as a runny nose, cough, and congestion) after vaccination. Bordetella can cross species, so an owner may experience some of the same symptoms as their pets. This is common and is explained to pet owners in the pamphlet published by Pfizer (the manufacturers of the Bordetella vaccine).
There are downsides to vaccinating your pet for Bordetella on a yearly basis. Research shows that the vaccine is ineffective against most strains of the disease if only because the disease is always evolving new strains. There can also be more serious side effects such as an allergic reaction to the vaccine itself. This is a rare occurrence, but can set in within minutes or hours of the dosage and causes diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Any side effects are likely compounded by giving more than one vaccine at the same time, which can stretch the immune system to its limits.

Dogs that have allergies, have been recently sick, are pregnant or nursing or intend to be used for breeding should not get the shot. Parents of dogs that are particularly sensitive to different elements should also be wary of getting this vaccine annually.

Healthy Immunity, Healthy Dog

There is no easy way to make sure that a pet’s immune system is working on par, but there are things an owner can do to help their dog’s immune system keep working properly.
The basis of a healthy immune system is diet. Dogs are carnivores (as is evidenced by teeth made for grabbing and tearing meat, if there was any lingering doubt). Unfortunately, many of the hard dog foods on the market have a primary ingredient of corn, wheat, or other grains. These are fillers and a dog’s digestive system was not made to process the glucose that these grains become. In some dogs, these foreign food substances can cause skin allergies, digestive upset, and weight gain, all of which lead to a general ill health. If kibble is the only option for feeding a pet, check the ingredients. The first ingredient should be grass fed, free range meat. And always go for grain-free.

Kibble may be the most convenient way to feed a dog, but it is not necessarily the healthiest. The vitamins and minerals in the unprocessed food cannot survive the high temperatures the food is cooked at to make kibble. After the heating process, the vitamins and minerals must be added to the kibble but they are not at the same potency as in the original ingredients. This sets the dog up for a nutritional deficiency no matter how fat and happy they may seem.
Raw food diets are gaining popularity in the pet industry because of their adherence to raw meats, bones, and fresh fruits and vegetables. There are several different alternatives to a raw food diet: an owner can gather the ingredients on their own, blend them (making sure bone chunks are nice and ground or too big to be swallowed whole) and then frozen in meal-sized porpotions. There are also commercially sold raw pet foods, both frozen and freeze dried. When shopping for any pet food, it is recommended that the owner look for grass-fed, free range beef, lamb, pork, or chicken, or wild harvested fish. It is also wise to learn as much as possible about the company providing these foods, where their meat and produce is sourced, and how it is handled before and after packaging.

Just like with humans, a dog’s digestive system plays a key role in immunity. It all comes down to bacteria. A dog’s gut is teeming with bacteria, some of it “good” and some of it “bad.” The bad bacteria feeds off glucose and yeast and can cause symptoms ranging from gas and bloating to skin irritations. A simple way to make sure a dog’s stomach stays balanced is adding a probiotic to her food. Probiotics have been studied extensively and have proven to boost a pet’s immune system and ease digestive issues.

Remember, a well-fed dog is a healthy dog, and a healthy dog is happy!

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