Symptoms of Kennel Cough (Bordetella) in Cats

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015
Bordetella

Effects of Feline Bordetellosis – From the Cat’s Point of View

Cats that are exposed to Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria get sick from the infection (bordetellosis) much less commonly than do dogs. Some cats are chronic carriers of the bacteria and shed it periodically without ever having or showing any signs of illness. These carrier cats are sources of infection to other animals, including cats, dogs, rabbits, pigs and people. Some cats with bordetellosis feel mildly sick from time to time, while others - especially very young kittens – develop severe, progressive and life-threatening bronchopneumonia which involves severe respiratory distress. When affected cats do show clinical signs of bordetellosis, they typically develop a fever, sneeze, have breathing difficulties and have nasal (nose) and ocular (eye) discharges which can last up to 2 weeks or more. Cats with bordetellosis also often have painful enlarged lymph nodes, cough and lose their appetite.

Feline Bordetellosis – What the Owner Sees

Symptoms of bordetellosis in cats are similar to those of upper respiratory tract infections in people. Owners of cats with this disease may see no signs, or they may notice one or more of the following in their beloved companion:

  • Fever
  • Coughing (more common in dogs than cats; when cat’s develop a cough from bordetellosis, it tends to be moist and productive and is accompanied by breathing problems)
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Goopy eyes (ocular discharge; may be liquid or crusty)
  • Swollen and painful lymph nodes (under the shin/lower jaw, in the armpits, elsewhere)
  • Lethargy
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Loss of appetite (inappetence; anorexia)
  • Weight loss

These signs can appear together or separately and frequently are progressive, especially in immunocompromised animals. Bordetellosis symptoms often progress rapidly in cats that are fighting other underlying medical conditions, such as feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or other upper respiratory infections such as viral feline herpes. Kittens can die from infection with Bordetella bronchiseptica in as little as 12 hours after their initial symptoms appear. Death is usually the result of secondary bacterial and/or viral infections that thrive as a result of the animal’s weak immune system. While the clinical manifestations of so-called “kennel cough” in cats may not seem particularly serious, the infection is extremely contagious. Cats suspected of having bordetellosis should be taken to a veterinarian and treated immediately.

Cats at Increased Risk of Bordetellosis

Cats that are living in high-density situations, such as in animal shelters, pet shops, backyard breeder catteries or kennel facilities, have an increased chance of becoming infected with the Bordetella bronchiseptica organism.

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