Feline Bordetellosis


The highly contagious bacterium responsible for the disease known as feline bordetellosis is called Bordetella bronchiseptica. The bacteria cause a respiratory problem called upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) and can be passed on to and from dogs. In dogs, infection from this bacterium is known as “Kennel Cough”. Other mammals which are known to be able to catch the disease are pigs, horses, sheep, and humans. The bacteria are of the same family as Bordetella pertussis which, for infected humans is known as “whooping cough”. Cats living in boarding catteries are more at risk of catching the disease. Kittens are particularly susceptible since they have a weaker immunity when compared with older cats and, if the disease is not caught in time, they can actually die. Cats with compromised immune systems are also at a greater risk, for example if they are already infected with the feline calicivirus or the feline herpesvirus.


The bacteria are transferred via coughing or sneezing from the infected cat in the form of aerosol droplets. Transmission often occurs more easily in households where there is an overcrowding of cats and in boarding catteries. The disease can be passed on by contaminated surfaces such as food bowls or even the floor. Carriers of the disease are able to shed infection, thus spreading it, for as long as five months. In addition, dogs and cats are able to transfer these bacteria between them.

In high risk establishments, good hygiene is essential to prevent transmission and overcrowding should be avoided. Bedding should be regularly washed as well as food and water bowls. There should also be adequate ventilation in the living and sleeping areas.


The signs and symptoms of feline bordetellosis are a result of infection in the upper respiratory tract. These include nasal and ocular discharge, sneezing, coughing, a high temperature, and rhinitis. Occasionally, following a coughing episode, the cat may sometimes vomit and sometimes there will be a distinct lack of appetite as well as lethargy. Enlarged lymph nodes under the jaw are sometimes observed. Adult cats usually exhibit a cough which resembles the bringing up of a hairball or may appear as though the cat is finding it difficult to breathe.

The symptoms are often much more severe in kittens under the age of six weeks old and for older cats they often appear milder. Some cats show no symptoms at all, although can pass on the disease to others.

Treatment and Prevention

Antibiotics are generally given to treat infection from feline bordetellosis. The cat must be force fed to prevent further, possibly fatal, diseases such as feline hyperlipidosis. Fluids must replace those lost to prevent dehydration and warm water can be used to gently wash away any ocular or nasal discharge.

Vaccinations are used to prevent infection and, unlike most vaccines, are administered by squirting it up the nose. These are usually only given before putting the cat in a boarding cattery and so is not a vaccine which is given annually. Infected cats should be isolated until they can longer shed the bacteria, thus preventing further transmission.

Diagnosis and Prognosis

The signs and symptoms of this disease mimic those of other respiratory infections and so it often difficult to diagnose. However, nasal or oropharyngeal swabs can obtain positive results when diagnosing this disease. Carriers of the disease may produce negative tests since they only shed the bacteria at alternate intervals. Death can occur as a result of infection and is especially fatal in kittens if the disease progresses to pneumonia. Under the age of six weeks old kittens with the disease will almost certainly die.


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