Bacterial Infection (B. bronchiseptica) in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Apr. 23, 2010

Bordetellosis in Cats

Bordetellosis is a contagious bacterial disease of cats that primarily causes upper respiratory tract abnormalities. Easily spread in kennels, bordetellosis is most severe in young kittens (less than six weeks old) and in kittens living in less than ideal hygienic conditions. However, any cat with a pre-existing airway disease (e.g., feline herpesvirus and calicivirus infections) is susceptible to Bordetellosis, no matter how old it is. 

Symptoms and Types

Carrier cats can seem healthy or have even mild symptoms, but others many have serious complications. Common symptoms associated with Bordetellosis many display untoward symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Crackling lung sounds, moist cough, or (less frequently) wheezing
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck (under the jaw)


This disease is caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica, a small, aerobic gram-negative (stains purple on slides) coccobacillus.


You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health to your veterinarian, including the onset and nature of the symptoms. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination as well as a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and electrolyte panel.

If severe pneumonia is present, the complete blood count will show an abnormally elevated number of neutrophils with a “left shift,” or an increase in the ratio of immature to mature neutrophils. Swab specimens taken from the back of the cat's throat (oropharynx) can also be used to confirm a B. bronchiseptica infection. To identify the sensitivity of the bacteria, meanwhile, an endotracheal wash or tracheobronchial lavage via bronchoscopy can be performed. This, too, will assist the veterinarian in developing an effective treatment plan.


Cats with Bordetellosis should be allowed to rest comfortable in a quiet place, away from other pets and active children, for at least two to three weeks or until their lungs appear normal in X-Rays -- especially those that have developed pneumonia. In addition, antimicrobial medication and fluid therapy will be administered.

Living and Management

Cats with uncomplicated infections should begin to recover within two weeks. If the cat does not improve, contact your veterinarian to reevaluate your pet. Cats with severe infections, on the other hand, may require regular follow-up examinations to assess its lungs. 

In addition, cats with bordetellosis may shed the bacteria for at least 19 weeks after initial infection, so be sure to isolate your animal from other cats.


The best way to prevent this type of infection is to vaccinate your cat against Bordetella.

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