Do cats get kennel cough?

Kennel cough…every time this term is heard what would immediately come to mind would be coughing dogs. This health concern is not really associated with cats given the fact that the upper respiratory disease of cats are usually caused by viruses. Kennel cough is caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica which is a bacterium. Moreover, coughing which is the primary symptom of this disease is rarely manifested by cats, even by those with upper respiratory diseases. However, the causative organisms of kennel cough that affect the upper respiratory tract of dogs can affect cats too. Cats can get kennel cough although this disease is more prevalent in dogs.

Upper respiratory disease is a common health concern of cats. These infections are primarily caused by viruses. Bordetella, also known as kennel cough is caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. Kennel cough is a highly contagious disease. An infected cat will shed the bacteria through the infectious secretions. A fine mist of the infectious secretions will contaminate the air when an infected cat sneezes, spits, hiss or coughs. The bacteria can also be transmitted by infected dogs. Cats will get kennel cough by breathing contaminated air. This is why the spread of the bacteria would be greater in areas that house many cats such as pet shops, catteries and animal shelters. The crowded condition makes it easier for the infection to spread. As the causative bacteria is airborne, indoor only cats can be infected as well.

Cats infected with Bordetella bronchiseptica would typically show clinical signs like fever and sneezing. Cats with kennel cough would have nasal and ocular discharge. Some cats would have dry hacking cough. Pet parents that are not aware of the other clinical symptoms the pet shows would associate the hacking cough and the gagging sound the pet makes to its effort of coughing up hairballs. The infection would be severe in young kittens and in cats with immunosuppressed immune system. Affected cats would have enlarged lymph nodes. Inappetance will worsen the cat’s condition until the life threatening bronchopneumonia is developed. Secondary bacterial and viral infections can occur. Because the infection would weaken the immune system of the cat, the infection can result to the death of the cat. Not all cats would be severely affected by the causative bacteria. Some cats would carry and chronically shed the bacteria without showing any clinical signs.

The causative bacteria for kennel cough have clinical signs that mimic symptoms of other kinds of infection thus diagnosing the condition of the cat is rather difficult. To give a definitive diagnosis, the vet would have to identify the bacteria. A sample of the nasal secretion or a swab sample from the throat will be taken for culture and identification. The history of the cat and the clinical signs will be considered as well. Cats with kennel cough respond well to antibiotics. A two week oral antibiotic therapy would treat the disease. As a preventive measure, cats that manifest the symptoms similar to clinical signs are given antibiotics even before the laboratory tests confirm the infection. Cats that have come in contact with a Bordetella bronchiseptica infected cat are also given antibiotics as preventive measure. One pet that gets infected will also endanger the health of the other pets in the household. Kennel cough is a zoonotic disease. It can be transmitted to humans. Food and water dishes as well as the space occupied by the infected cat must be thoroughly disinfected. Needless to say, cats with kennel cough must be quarantined to control the spread of infection.