What is Kennel Cough?
Even though there is a vaccine approved for use in cats, unlike with dogs, it is very rare for a cat to be vaccinated against Bordetella. This is because it is quite rare for an adult cat to contract Bordetella. Very young kittens are much more at risk than adult cats. Consequently, in some environments in which young kittens may one of a large number of cats, veterinarians may recommend vaccinating the kitten against Bordetella.
Coughing is very rare in cats. If you have a cat that has developed a cough, especially if that cat is a young kitten, it is imperative that you contact your veterinarian immediately as kennel cough can be very serious in young kittens and, perhaps, other cats that are immunocompromised.
Although it is much more of a threat to dogs than to cats, Bordetella bronchiseptica, a bacteria that is related to the bacteria that causes whooping cough in humans, can cause very severe and even fatal respiratory infections in very young kittens or older cats with weak immune systems. It is possible, and perhaps common, that healthy adult cats contract Bordetella but only develop very minor symptoms similar to a mild cold and recover quickly. When this bacteria infects a very young or otherwise immunocompromised cat, the resulting condition, commonly called kennel cough, is identifiable by the raspy and billowing cough that develops.
Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Cats
Symptoms of kennel cough are similar to a severe cold or influenza. Since coughing is so rare in cats, the following symptoms should be concerning enough to warrant a call to your veterinarian:
- Coughing, ranging from mild to hacking and choking
- Nasal or ocular discharge
- Loss of appetite
Causes of Kennel Cough in Cats
Bordetella is a highly contagious bacterium; cats are just more resistant to it than dogs, causing it to be much rarer in cats and much less severe in otherwise healthy adult cats. Cats tend to catch kennel cough from other infected cats. There is little evidence that cats can catch kennel cough from dogs. There is some evidence, however, that cats are able to pass the bacteria on to dogs. Kennel cough is likely to be present and spread within large animal populations in an enclosed area such as an animal shelter. Very young kittens and older cats are much more susceptible than healthy adult cats.
Diagnosis of Kennel Cough in Cats
The vet will listen to your observation of symptoms in the cat as well as perform a thorough physical examination, concentrating on listening to the lungs as the cat breathes. While a vet may make a tentative diagnosis based solely on observational evidence, it is likely that your cat will take a swab from inside your cat’s mouth or from the nasal discharge. The sample will then be examined to determine if Bordetella bacteria is present.
Treatment of Kennel Cough in Cats
Treatment for kennel cough is similar to treatment for other respiratory infections. It usually includes the following:
- Increased fluids, sometimes intravenously
- Cough suppressant or expectorant
- Healthy diet
- Nutritional supplements to build up immune system
Recovery of Kennel Cough in Cats
Prognosis for a young kitten with no other underlying health problems is usually quite good with treatment. The prognosis for older cats is dependent upon their age and underlying health conditions.
- Be consistent in administering prescribed medication to the cat according to the instructions provided by your vet and with the medicine
- Quarantine the cat while it recovers to prevent possible spread to other animals, especially if there are young or old animals in the same environment. This will also allow the cat to recover in a quiet stress-free environment.
- Keep the cat’s environment clean and disinfected, including bedding, food and water bowls, and litter box
- Consult with your veterinarian about nutritional supplements that may strengthen your cat’s immune system in the long run
- Be observant regarding possible recurrences
- Ask your veterinarian about the possibility of a vaccination to prevent future cases