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Kennel Cough in Cats: Symptoms, Treatment, Causes & Diagnosis

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If you’ve noticed your cat coughing and sneezing, almost like they’ve got a cold, there’s a chance they could have kennel cough. Most pet parents are familiar with the highly infectious kennel cough symptoms affecting dogs, but it can affect cats too, although it’s very rare. Just like in dogs, cat kennel cough is an upper respiratory infection causing coughing, sneezing, and discharge from the eyes and nose. Keep reading to learn more about cat kennel cough!

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What is kennel cough?

“Kennel cough” is the common name given to a set of upper respiratory symptoms commonly seen in dogs. Several different viruses and bacteria can cause kennel cough, but in cats it tends to be caused by a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica, which is related to the bacteria that causes whooping cough in humans. This type of bacteria is spread in saliva, nasal secretions, and by droplets from infected animals, so it can easily spread through close contact.

Whilst kennel cough is very common in dogs, it is quite rare in cats. It tends to spread more readily in larger colonies of cats such as multi-cat households, and breeders with several cats.

cat coughs while lying down
Image Credit: Ramy kabalan, Pixabay

Is it kennel cough or cat flu?

While coughing is quite unusual in cats, sneezing and discharge from the eyes and nose are common symptoms. It could be easy to assume that your cat has kennel cough if you spot these signs, but there are actually some other common infections that can cause this.

Most cat parents are familiar with “cat flu” – a common, contagious upper respiratory infection. Cat flu is usually caused by the feline calicivirus or the feline herpes virus and tends to affect very old or young cats, or those with underlying health conditions. The symptoms of cat flu include sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, lethargy, inappetence (loss of appetite), and fever. So it could be very easy to confuse cat flu and kennel cough!

The most reliable way to find out whether your cat is suffering from cat flu or kennel cough is by getting a swab of your cat’s throat at the veterinary clinic, and sending it away to a lab to identify the bug.

Can cats get kennel cough?

Absolutely, cats can catch kennel cough. Although it is uncommon, the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica that causes kennel cough in dogs can also affect cats. Cats usually catch kennel cough from other cats, which is why it is most common in large colonies of cats and multi-cat households where the bacteria can spread easily on surfaces such as toys and bowls, and through inhaling droplets in sneezes and saliva from infected cats.

Related Read: Can Cats Get Colds? And What Should You Do?

Can a dog give a cat kennel cough?

There is very little evidence to demonstrate the spread of kennel cough from dogs to cats, and although it is possible, it is unlikely. However, cats can spread kennel cough to dogs.

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How to avoid spreading kennel cough from your dog to your cat

Kennel cough is a highly contagious infection, so it’s really important to prevent it from spreading between animals. If your dog has been diagnosed with kennel cough, and you are concerned about it spreading to your cat, one of the most important things to consider is hygiene. Although spread from dogs to cats is rare, it is always sensible to be cautious.

Preventing your dog and cat from getting too close to one another will help. If your feline and canine companions like to get up close and personal, you might want to discourage this for the time being, as close contact is the most common way for the infection to spread. Bordetella can actually live on a surface for up to 2 weeks in the environment, so cleaning any shared bowls or toys is essential, as well as washing bedding.

How to tell if your cat has kennel cough

Kennel cough presents as an upper respiratory infection, so the symptoms that we see are typically mild sneezing, coughing, and discharge from the eyes and nose, which may be clear, yellow, or green.

Usually, these symptoms only last for 7-10 days, but in a small number of cases cats may become more unwell and develop secondary infections such as pneumonia, which can be serious. Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, lethargy, and inappetence as well as the other typical upper respiratory symptoms. These complications are more common in very young or elderly cats, and those with underlying health conditions.

The symptoms of kennel cough in cats can be very similar to other upper respiratory infections, such as cat flu. If your cat is displaying any of these symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out by a veterinarian. Left untreated, a small number of cats may develop secondary infections such as pneumonia, which could make them very sick.

Kennel cough can be easily diagnosed by taking a swab from your cat’s throat, and sending it off to the lab to be tested. This can help the vet decide on the best course of treatment for your cat.

cat coughing
Image Credit: Ihtar, Pixabay

How do you treat kennel cough in cats?

Treatment for kennel cough in cats usually involves antibiotics, as the cause of the infection is bacterial. An antibiotic called doxycycline is most commonly used. However, there is a strong chance that the bacteria are resistant to some antibiotics. Your veterinarian might want to take a swab from your cat’s throat that can then be cultured in the lab and tested to see which antibiotics are most effective at killing the bacteria.

Your cat will also likely benefit from some anti-inflammatory medication, which will help to bring down a fever, and make your cat feel much better! There are medicines that can help to clear mucus and congestion too. Steaming is another way to help clear mucus – the safest way to do this with cats is by sitting with them in a hot, steamy bathroom. You must supervise your cat and never leave them unattended in a hot room, or near hot water.

How can I treat my cat’s kennel cough at home?

Cat kennel cough is best treated with medication from your veterinarian, which usually includes antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. It’s really important to get your cat checked over at the vets if they show any signs of kennel cough, as the vet will want to determine whether it is kennel cough, cat flu, or something else before treating. You must never treat your cat with any over-the-counter or prescription medicines designed for humans, as this can be really dangerous for your pet. You can use steam to help clear mucus, such as sitting with your cat in a hot, steamy bathroom.

How long does kennel cough last in cats?

Kennel cough is usually a short illness, typically lasting 7-10 days in most cats. However, the infection can persist for longer, or cause secondary infections and complications such as pneumonia that take longer to treat and may make your cat unwell for 2-3 weeks.

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Conclusion

Although rare, cat kennel cough can spread easily between individuals in multi-cat households or colonies, as it is highly contagious. It can spread between cats and dogs too, so good hygiene and prevention is really important to keep your pets healthy. Cat kennel cough is usually a short-lived infection and tends to get better in about a week, but it’s really important to get your feline friend checked over by a veterinarian if he has any symptoms of kennel cough, so that you can get your cat the right treatments and rule out other infections with similar symptoms, such as cat flu.

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Featured Image Credit: Ada K, Pixabay