Can Kitty Catch Kennel Cough? The Answer May Surprise You


The spread of respiratory diseases between pets is a concern for many cat and dog owners. Upper respiratory infections can quickly spread through multi-pet households and animal shelters. One such disease, bordetellosis, is caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica. This highly contagious bacteria can spread between cats and dogs, causing sneezing, coughing, and other flu-like symptoms.

Understanding how bordetellosis is transmitted between species, the risks, and preventative measures is important for keeping both dogs and cats happy and healthy. This article will examine the current research on bordetella infections in dogs and cats and provide owners and veterinarians guidance on identifying, managing, and preventing transmission between pets.

What is Bordetella?

Bordetella is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by Bordetella bacteria. There are several species that can infect humans and animals, with the most common being Bordetella pertussis, which causes whooping cough (pertussis) in humans. Bordetella is spread through respiratory droplets and direct contact with infected individuals. It colonizes the upper respiratory tract and releases toxins that damage cilia lining the airways, leading to inflammation, excessive mucus production, and severe coughing fits. Bordetella infections require fastidious culture conditions in the lab for isolation and identification. Treatment involves antibiotics like macrolides, but vaccination remains the best preventative strategy.

Bordetella in Dogs

Bordetella bronchiseptica is a highly contagious bacterial disease that commonly affects dogs 1. It is estimated that nearly 100% of dogs will be exposed to Bordetella during their lifetime. The most common symptoms of Bordetella in dogs include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, lethargy, and loss of appetite 1. Bordetella is spread through direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected dogs. It can also survive for short periods in the environment. Dogs in crowded conditions like shelters, daycares, and boarding facilities are at highest risk of exposure 2.

Bordetella in Cats

Bordetella bronchiseptica infections in cats are less common than in dogs, but can still occur. The most common symptoms in cats include sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, fever, and conjunctivitis (Merck Animal Health). The infection is highly contagious between cats and transmission occurs through direct contact with respiratory droplets or indirectly through contaminated objects. Cats can also become infected through exposure to infected dogs, as dogs are the natural reservoir of B. bronchiseptica (International Cat Care).

Transmission Between Species

Both dogs and cats can transmit Bordetella bronchiseptica between each other. The bacteria is very contagious and can spread through direct contact, airborne droplets from coughing/sneezing, or contaminated objects and surfaces (Bond Vet, Hill’s Pet Nutrition).

Dogs and cats living together or interacting are at higher risk. The bacteria can survive for long periods in the environment, increasing chances of transmission. Cats and dogs with weakened immune systems are also more susceptible to contracting Bordetella from the other species.

Preventive measures like vaccination, good hygiene, and limiting contact with infected animals can reduce transmission risks between dogs and cats in the same household.


There are several ways to help prevent the transmission of Bordetella between dogs and cats:

Vaccination is recommended if either dogs or cats will be boarded, groomed, go to daycare, dog parks, or be exposed to other animals. The intranasal Bordetella vaccine is available for both dogs and cats. While not 100% effective, it can reduce clinical signs if infected. Vaccination helps minimize shedding of the bacteria and limits transmission to other pets (1).

Proper hygiene and sanitation are also important. Thoroughly clean and disinfect food bowls, bedding, toys, crates, litter boxes, and any other shared items. Bleach solutions are effective disinfectants against Bordetella. Limiting exposure between infected and healthy pets can also lower contagion risk (2).

Because Bordetella is highly contagious, isolating infected dogs and cats from other pets in the home is ideal. But this may be challenging. At minimum, avoid nose-to-nose contact and sharing enclosed spaces as much as possible until treatment is complete and symptoms resolve (3).


Testing is important to accurately diagnose bordetella infection in dogs and cats. The most common ways to test for bordetella include:

PCR Test: This molecular test can rapidly and specifically identify the presence of B. bronchiseptica with a nasal or pharyngeal swab (Zoologix). PCR testing is more sensitive than culture.

Culture: Positive cultures from nasal, pharyngeal, or tracheal samples can definitively diagnose bordetella. However, culture can take up to 7 days and is less sensitive than PCR (Tabatabaei et al.).

Other Tests: A complete blood count, serum chemistry, urinalysis, parasite check, and chest x-rays may help identify conditions secondary to bordetella infection (VCA Animal Hospitals).

In summary, PCR testing of nasal or pharyngeal samples is the quickest and most sensitive way to diagnose bordetella infection in dogs and cats.


The main treatment for bordetella in cats is antibiotics. According to All Care Pet Clinic, common antibiotics used include doxycycline or a fluoroquinolone antibiotic. These antibiotics help clear the bacterial infection and reduce symptoms. Treatment typically lasts around 2 weeks. In severe cases, intravenous antibiotics may be needed.

In addition to antibiotics, supportive care is important. This includes rest, nutritional support, and oxygen therapy if needed. Cats with breathing difficulties may need nebulization treatments to open airways. Any other secondary infections should also be treated. With prompt antibiotic treatment and supportive care, most cats fully recover from bordetella.


The prognosis for cats infected with Bordetella is usually good with prompt antibiotic treatment, according to The Merck Veterinary Manual 1. Most cats will make a full recovery within 2-4 weeks. However, kittens, senior cats, and immunocompromised cats may take longer to recover or can develop secondary infections like pneumonia, which can worsen the prognosis.

With appropriate antibiotic therapy, the Bordetella bacteria are typically eliminated from the cat’s upper respiratory tract within 7-10 days, leading to resolution of symptoms like sneezing and nasal discharge 2. Cats should be kept isolated during treatment to prevent disease spread.

In rare cases, cats can become chronic carriers of Bordetella and act as sources of infection for other cats. But most treated cats eliminate the bacteria and make a full recovery without long-term effects on health.


In summary, Bordetella bronchiseptica is a highly contagious respiratory infection that commonly affects dogs and cats. While Bordetella mainly spreads between dogs, cats can also become infected through close contact with infected dogs. The most common symptoms in cats include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever, and lack of appetite. If a cat is exposed, a vet should be consulted for testing and treatment with antibiotics. Prevention is key, and dogs should be vaccinated annually against Bordetella. Cats who are at high risk of exposure should also receive the Bordetella vaccine. With proper precautions and veterinary care, Bordetella infections in cats are very treatable. However, it is important to control the spread of this highly contagious bacteria between species. Preventative measures like vaccines and limiting contact with infected animals are crucial to protect the health of our pets.

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