Bacterial Infection (B. bronchiseptica) in Cats

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.

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