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Can Cats Get Kennel Cough?

While kennel cough is much less common in cats than in dogs, it’s possible for our feline friends to catch the illness. However, kennel cough is just one possible cause of coughing in cats, and a cough always warrants a vet visit.

Here are some important things to know about cats and kennel cough. 

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What Is Kennel Cough? 

Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is an infection of the throat and upper respiratory tract. It’s most commonly recognized in dogs. 

In dogs, several types of viruses and bacteria can cause kennel cough. The bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica is most common, so often the terms “kennel cough” and “Bordetella” are often used interchangeably. This is also the infectious agent that causes kennel cough in cats.

How Cats Get Kennel Cough

The bacteria that causes kennel cough is transmitted through nasal and oral secretions (coughing, sneezing, etc.), direct contact, and shared objects such as water bowls or toys. 

The cats at the highest risk of exposure include kitties in crowded conditions (especially shelters or pet stores, and even more so if hygiene at the facility is not good), cats who live with another pet who has been exposed to kennel cough, and cats who travel, go outdoors, or are frequently exposed to other pets.

Additionally, certain conditions (stress, poor ventilation, smoke exposure, etc.) can poorly affect a cat’s immune system and make them more susceptible to a variety of infectious respiratory diseases.

Can Kennel Cough Spread Between Cats, Dogs, and Humans?

Cats can get kennel cough (Bordetella bronchiseptica) from infected dogs, as well as from infected cats. Dogs can catch the disease from cats, too.

It’s possible for humans to get kennel cough from an infected dog or cat. However, it’s extremely rare and unlikely to result in serious illness for adults with a healthy immune system.

Humans can also spread the bacteria from one pet to another accidentally, since the bacteria can stay on a person’s hands, clothing, or other surfaces for a period of time after exposure to a sick pet. 

For safety, it’s never a bad idea to use good hygiene (wash your hands after petting a dog or cat, especially a sick one, and teach children to do the same). Immunocompromised individuals may want to speak with their physician.

Common Symptoms of Kennel Cough

Symptoms to look for include:

  • Coughing.
  • Sneezing or a runny nose.
  • Eye discharge or other eye symptoms.
  • General signs of illness such as lethargy, fever, and loss of appetite.
  • Severely affected cats could have trouble breathing. 

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When Is a Vet Visit Needed for Kennel Cough in Cats?

Fortunately, kennel cough is usually a mild disease in cats, albeit uncomfortable. And it responds well to veterinary treatment.

However, in some cases, the disease can progress to pneumonia and even be fatal. Young kittens, older cats, and kitties who have a compromised immune system or certain underlying medical conditions are more at risk.

A cough in cats always warrants a vet visit as soon as possible — and an emergency vet visit is required for cats that are very ill or having difficulty breathing.

There are many other causes of cough in cats, some of which are very serious. A few examples include asthma, heart disease, other types of infections, certain parasites, and allergies. So it’s important to have a cat evaluated, rather than assuming it’s kennel cough based on symptoms.

Hairballs are often confused with coughing, too, although hairballs come from the stomach and the sound the cat makes is not a true cough. One to two hairballs a month in an otherwise healthy cat are generally considered okay.

How Is Kennel Cough Diagnosed?

Your kitty’s veterinarian will do a full physical exam. Exam findings and symptoms alone may be enough to start treatment for some infections.

If a cat has had more than one respiratory infection recently, hasn’t responded to treatment, has severe symptoms, or could be coughing due to an underlying condition like asthma, your vet will probably recommend diagnostic testing. This could include bloodwork, x-rays, a swab of the throat or nasal discharge to test for infectious diseases (and antibiotic sensitivity), or other tests as your vet deems appropriate.

Treatment for Kennel Cough in Cats

Fortunately, most cats respond very well to treatment. 

Commonly, treatment includes antibiotics, cough suppressants, and/or immune system supplements for cats.

Kitties with severe symptoms or pneumonia may require hospitalization and more intensive care.

Never give medications at home without checking with your vet first — many are toxic to cats!

Helping Your Cat Feel Better at Home

Let your kitty relax and rest in a quiet place, away from other pets and children. Isolating a sick cat will also help prevent the spread of kennel cough to other pets in the home.

Keep plenty of fresh drinking water available. Consider using soft foods (easier to smell and swallow) or offering tempting treats like plain chicken meat if your kitty’s appetite is down.

You can also use a humidifier, with just plain water or saline (no medications or oils added).

Preventing Kennel Cough in Cats

There is a Bordetella vaccine approved for cats, but it’s rarely used because the disease is uncommon in cats and usually carries mild symptoms. Many veterinary clinics don’t even keep the vaccine in stock. It may be useful in very specific instances, such as for young cats in a shelter environment.

Good overall health is one way to lower a cat’s risk of kennel cough and other infectious diseases. Vaccinating your cat for other, more common feline respiratory diseases (such as feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus) is also a good idea. These vaccinations are usually recommended as part of a cat’s routine veterinary visits.

Keeping your cat indoors is also advised, since they would have less exposure to other cats, infectious diseases, and dangers such as cars.

Though kennel cough is rare in cats, knowledge can be powerful so you know exactly what to do if your furry friend ever develops a cough or other symptoms of illness. Seeking veterinary care right away, taking measures to prevent the spread of the disease, and providing some TLC and a quiet place to rest can all help a cat bounce back to their curious, playful self very quickly.

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