Bordetella Bronchuseptica In Cats

By:  Dawn Skupin


Feline Bordetella is a bacterial respiratory disease from the same family as kennel cough in dogs and whooping cough in humans.  Bordetella is an extremely contagious respiratory infection of cats. Bordetella is caused by the gram-negative bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. It can run as a concurrent infection with viral infections such as calicivirus and feline herpesvirus.


Bordetella infects the airways and lung parenchyma, leading to lower airway disease and/or pneumonia. The bacterium is transmitted in the saliva and respiratory secretions of infected cats.  Bordetella can also be transmitted from dogs to cats and vice versa.  This infection is more common in multicat households, catteries, boarding facilities and animal shelters than in single cat households.  The bordetella bacterium is susceptible to common disinfectants, with bleach at a 1:32 solution very effective and inexpensive.  All litter pans, food and water bowls and toys need to be disinfected daily, in addition to the housing situation in an effort to stop the spread of the bacteria.  Bordetella is a zoonosis, so it can be transmitted to humans, although it is rare.  People most susceptible are imunosuppressed.


Signs of feline bordetella include:


         Nasal discharge




         Swollen and enlarged lymph nodes under the lower jaw

         Rale sounds in the lungs that come from the presence of fluid


Cough is not always present in feline bordetella and is not as specific of an indicator as it is with dogs.  Additional bordetella symptoms can include, dull, watery eyes, anorexia, gulping movements due to a sore throat, and weight loss related to anexoria.  It is important that if bordetella is suspected and the cat is not eating, supportative treatment be started as soon as possible.  A cat that refuses to eat must receive animal protein.  Going for days without food can bring the onset of feline hyperlipidosis, a debilitating condition of the liver, resulting from the cat being starved of protein and its body trying to draw on fat supplies for nutrition and energy.  Keeping the nasal passages clear of mucus assists in the animal’s ability to breathe, eat and minimize depression which is associated with the symptoms of bordetella.


Often, symptoms of feline bordetella in adults are mild, but kittens are more seriously affected than may appear.  Bordetella is notorious for hitting young kittens with alarming speed.  The kittens are fine one minute and dead from pneumonia within as little as 12 hours.  A slight sniffle or sneeze, cough or runny eye can rapidly progress in a very short time to a dead kitten.  Mortality is nearly 100% in kittens under six weeks old.  Older kittens can have a nasal discharge and be unable to smell or eat but seem otherwise fine.  Mortality among older kittens is closer to 50%.   Whatever the age of the kitten, speed of treatment is of the utmost importance!


Diagnosis of feline bordetella is not made by physical examination alone. Because this bacterium’s’ symptoms so closely parallel that of an upper respiratory infection, there is difficulty in obtaining an accurate diagnosis without testing. The most definitive diagnosis is derived from positive mouth or mucous discharge, (nasal), for the bordetella organism thru a PCR test.  In addition to a PCR test, a blood sample can be used for antibody detection. 


Some cats can be carriers of this disease; shedding the bacteria without showing active signs of infection.  Carrier cats transmit the disease by grooming, sneezing, coughing, or by sharing food and water bowls.  Clinically healthy cats that have been infected with Bordetella may be silent carriers that continue to shed this pathogen. Carrier cats may not always culture positive for the disease unless they are actively shedding the bacteria such as in times of stress or birthing. This disease may be difficult to isolate from carrier cats because of the low number of organisms shed and are easily overgrown by other flora.  Additionally, carrier cats only shed the bacteria intermittently or harbor the disease for several years before breaking with symptoms, and therefore may return negative test results.  B. bronchiseptica is usually carried asymptomatically.


Because feline bordetella is a bacterium and not a virus it is treatable with antibiotics. It is resistant to Amoxicillin, but appears to be sensitive to just about every other antibiotic. Antibacterial therapy is indicated, even if the infection is mild.  Where sensitivity data is unavailable, tetracyclines are recommended. Tetracycline is dosed at 10mg per kilogram be given every eight hours.  Doxycycline  is the antimicrobial of choice and is dosed at 10mg per kilogram every 24 hours.  Amoxicillin/clavulonic acid 62.5mg twice a day can also be used.  Zithromax remains in an effective concentration in the tissue for up to seven days, so this drug is extremely effective, particularly in cases of multiple infections.  If in a multicat situation, and one cat has a positive diagnosis, ALL CATS IN THE HOUSEHOLD MUST BE TREATED for a full 14-21 days or the possibility of repeated outbreaks of more and more resistant strains is a real possibility!


Currently, the main preventative for the bordetella infection is to limit stress and exposure to cats known to carry the infection.  A nasal vaccine is available, but is not recommended as a “Normal protocol” of vaccinations.  It is suggested to be reserved for high-risk animals.  The most effective protection is obtained when a proper vaccination protocol is maintained,  combined with good sanitation practices in addition to limiting the stress of the cats in the environment by minimizing overcrowded conditions.





Works Cited

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"IDEXX Feline Upper Respiratory Disease." June 2010. IDEXX Laboratories. 02 June 2010 <>.

Lappin, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Michael R. "Feline Zoonotic Diseases." 29th World Congress of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association. 28 Feb. 2011 <>.

"Ohio State University VTH Canine and Feline Vaccination Guidelines." Mar. 2005. OSU Vaccination Guidelines. 02 Sept. 2010 <>.

Reding, Jennifer. "Bordetella Bronchiseptica: Is YOUR Cattery at Risk?" 01 Sept. 2010 <>.

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Veterinary Medicine, Faculty of. "Bordetella Bronchiseptica." Veterinary Medicine. University of Glasgow. 18 July 2010 <>.

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