Most dog owners are familiar with the condition commonly known as kennel cough, either from the distinctive, honking cough, or from the annoyance they feel when they realize they can’t drop their dog off at the kennel without getting the dog’s vaccines updated. But the disease is not exclusive to dogs. The easily contracted bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica can attack a cat’s respiratory system all the same. Signs of infection in cats include sneezing, runny nose, loss of appetite, fever, and enlarged lymph nodes. Treatment usually includes antibiotics and isolation of the infected cat, but hospitalization may be necessary in severe cases.


Feline bordetellosis is a contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica. Though this bacterium may be the primary cause of the disease, it can also be secondary to various viral infections. Cats of all ages may contract this disease, although it typically occurs in younger cats.

The infection is spread primarily through direct contact with an infected animal. Exposure to secretions from the nose, throat, or eyes of an infected animal may also result in infection. Infected cats, even if they don’t show signs, can shed the bacteria for months, and may be a source of infection for others. Dogs harboring B. bronchiseptica infection (kennel cough), may sometimes transmit the infection to cats. It’s also possible for people, especially those with compromised immune systems, to contract the infection from animals in the household.

Signs and Identification

Signs of feline bordetellosis can range from mild to severe. Infected cats may experience sneezing, nasal and eye discharge, loss of appetite, fever, and enlarged lymph nodes. If the bacteria invade the lungs, cats can develop pneumonia, resulting in more severe signs, such as difficulty breathing and coughing. In severe cases, infection may lead to death.

Respiratory infections may be diagnosed based on associated clinical signs. In some cases, the veterinarian may recommend that samples from the throat, nose, or lungs be submitted for culture (testing for bacteria) to determine the exact cause and most effective treatment. Blood test and chest radiographs (x-rays) may also be recommended.

Affected Breeds

No breed predilection for bordetellosis has been established in cats.


In cats with mild respiratory signs, the infection may be self-limiting, meaning that it may resolve on its own. Other cats are typically treated with an antibiotic. In some cases, cats may require hospitalization. All cats with respiratory infections should be isolated from other animals and susceptible people to prevent further transmission of the disease.


A vaccine to help prevent feline bordetellosis is available and may be given to kittens age 1 month or older. However, it is generally only used for cats and kittens with prior exposure to shelters, boarding facilities, or breeding sites where the potential for infection is high or to prevent infection when the pets will be exposed to other cats at groomers, boarding facilities, or cat shows.

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.