Causes of Kennel Cough in Cats
The bacterium that causes bordetellosis in cats, Bordetella bronchiseptica, is the same one that is responsible for causing kennel cough in dogs. Bordetellosis is extremely contagious between cats, and also by and between cats, dogs, rabbits, pigs and even people. Infected animals transmit this infection to non-infected animals through aerosolized microdroplets that contain the bacteria, and also by direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids. Bordetella bronchiseptica organisms are shed in nasal, oral and other bodily secretions of infected animals for 3 or more months after they become infected and contract the disease, whether or not they ever get sick from the infection. Barking, hissing, spitting, coughing, panting and meowing are all common behaviors that can release the infectious secretions into the air through the cat’s nose and/or mouth. Bordetellosis tends to plague environments that have house multiple cats kept in close quarters, especially if the cat population changes frequently. Crowding, inadequate ventilation, poor hygiene and chronic stress increase the chance of cats developing this disease. Catteries (which are cat breeding facilities), pet stores, boarding kennels, backyard breeders and animal shelters are the primary sites where bordetellosis is seen in companion cats. Young kittens and unvaccinated cats that live outdoors also have a greatly increased risk of developing severe clinical disease from infections with Bordetella bronchiseptica.
Preventing Kennel Cough in Cats
Given how extremely contagiousness infection with Bordetella bronchiseptica is, the best way to prevent actual clinical disease is to prevent infected animals from coming into contact with non-infected animals. New cats should be separated from existing household pets for at least several weeks to reduce the chance of cross-infection. Impeccable hygiene, a high-quality nutritious diet and responsible environmental care are important to the welfare of any companion cat, but are especially important to prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as bordatellosis. Facilities that house lots of cats in close quarters can reduce the risk of feline bordetellosis by maintaining a consistently clean and well-disinfected environment for all feline residents, with lots of fresh air and good ventilation. There are vaccines for both feline and canine bordetellosis, although the effectiveness of these vaccines are somewhat questionable at this time. Most domestic cats are not routinely vaccinated against bordetellosis, but the vaccine can be useful in high-risk, multi-cat situations. Most boarding kennels and grooming facilities require dogs to be current on their bordetellosis vaccination. Owners who have both cats and dogs may want to vaccinate their pets against Bordetella bronchiseptica regularly, not only to prevent their cat from becoming infected, but also to prevent the cat from infecting dogs in the household, and vice versa.