The following information is slightly technical, but please read, for the health of your precious cat.
Cats Don't Get Dog Diseases -- or Do They?
By H. Dohrmann
A relatively new enemy to cats, bordetella has been cultured n cats in Texas, California, Washington, Virginia, Michigan...at labson the
Eat Coast, West Coast, and all areas in between. It's an easily spread bacteria that appears to be on the increase, especially in the
cat fancy. It is considered a dog disease and can be misdiagnosed in
This article is written in hopes that it will help keep your cats and
kittens healthy. Most of the information was supplied by Anna Sadler
(Brannaway Persians) in Texas, and Pat Decano (Casa Decano) in
Washington, who have firsthand knowledge of what bordetella can do and
had the courage to share their experiences with fellow cat fanciers.
Anna's Story: Before she finally received confirmation of bordatella,
Anna and her vet had made the extremely difficult decision to put down five wonderful cats, two of which were grands, on the premise that some unknown virus was being spread through "carrier" cats, and that
these five cats had been through multiple infections, therefore,
leading them to believe that they were the culprits. All these cats, as
well as others of Anna's had been through multiple viral cultures, all
of which came back negative....a viral culture will not reveal
bordetella, which is a bacteria!
Anna heard about another vet who was treating cats for bordetella,went to him, and viola! -- the problem was finally determined, six months AFTER all the problems started! Anna's cats did not need to
die. If her vet had made a proper diagnosis in the beginning, she would probably still have those five cats today. Please note: many
vets will not acknowledge that bordetella exists in cats. Instead,they think there must by an underlying cause (chlamydia, etc.) for the symptoms. Anna kept her grief and problems to herself until she finally told the cat fanciers online in this post:
"In the hopes of helping someone else, I'll tell you folks the story
of my last year-and-a-half of hell. I may be a dinosaur (in more ways than one), but in the nearly 20 years of breeding, I have never
seriously considered quitting until last year. Kitty Angell has an
article, with an interview with me, that will be out in an upcoming
Exhibitor Edition of Cats Magazine with more details than I can
squeeze in here.
It began with a nasty, nagging little upper respiratory infection.
What set it apart from some of the normal little "flu's" that may hit from time to time, is that even fully vaccinated adults were getting it. It was very stubborn, but would respond to antibiotics in time. I beat a well-worn path to my veterinarian's door, and I could paper my
walls with negative viral cultures that were done. I, of course, shut down and quit showing and breeding. I would clear up Cat A, and Cats B and C would break with it, and so on, round-robin, with cats clearing and re-breaking time after time.
Ultimately, we found it. The problem? First, it's NOT a virus...it's a
bacteria. Secondly, cats don't "get it"... it's a dog disease. Third,by treating only those clearly asymptomatic cats, the bacteria continues in those that are not symptomatic and re-infects other cats.
What it is, is bordetella bronchiseptica....kennel cough. And symptoms
to watch for are:
typical URI snotty nose, with varying degrees of eye
involvement from none at all to moderate (rarely severe)
the "cough" which I didn't pick up on at all,rather than a true cough, it is more a gagging sound...
like a cat trying unsuccessfully to get up a hairball, and only a few of my cats exhibited this symptom at all.
increase in neonate deaths to pneumonia
the perfectly healthy cat/kitten one day...to dead the next.
This is a result of the cat equivalent of "walking
pneumonia". The lungs are totally blown before even the cat
knows he is sick.
After we finally got the diagnosis, my vet had me treat every cat in the house for 7 solid weeks with a series of appropriate antibiotics,
then isolate any that did rebreak for yet additional treatment. We've
also administered the canine vaccines...both the modified-live
intranasal and the killed injectable. (And do I even have to mention
that my house reeks of eau de clorox!!) Finally, after 14 months, I
have my first kittens on the ground since the plague hit. They are fat
and sassy and beginning to toddle now, and I'm hovering like an
overprotective mother. My vet believes I have it licked, but I won't
be really secure until these kids grown completely up. I believe it's
in the shows, and that anyone would be well-advised to give the
bordetella vaccine. Most everyone I know in the Dallas/Fort Worth area
are doing so, and having virtually no bad reactions."
The abstract which follows is reproduced from Veterinary Record, 1993,
September 11, 133(11):260-3. It was found by Linnea Danielson, while
she was roaming through the National Library of Medicine's Medline service.
Feline bordetellosis: challenge and vaccine studies.
Four eight-week-old cats, shown to be free from feline calicivirus,
feline herpesvirus, and Chlamydia psittaci were challenged with an
aerosol of Bordetella bronchiseptica. Within five days the cats
developed signs of respiratory disease, characterized by nasal
discharge, sneezing, spontaneous or induced coughing and dry or wet
rales at auscultation. These signs were present for about 10 days,
after which they began to resolve. To test the protective capacity of an experimental fimbrial antigen-based subunit vaccine, 10 kittens were vaccinated twice, with two weeks between the vaccinations, and
five kittens were left unvaccinated. Two weeks after the booster the 15 kittens were challenged with an aerosol of B. bronchiseptica as the sole pathogen. On the day of the challenge the vaccinated kittens had a mean bordetella antibody titer of 2(9.5) whereas the control cats
remained seronegative (titer <2(2)). The control cats developed signs of respiratory disease after challenge, whereas the vaccinated cats
were almost completely protected. The degrees of protection against rhinitis, sneezing, spontaneous or induced coughing, and dry or wet rales as auscultation were 100 percent, 95 percent, 95 percent, and
100 percent, respectively.
Furthermore, the vaccinated kittens cleared the challenge bacteria
more quickly than the controls, resulting in a reduction of 80 per
cent on days 15 and 18 after challenge and a reduction of 99 percent
on days 22 and 29 after challenge. The results show that B.
bronchiseptica can act as a primary pathogen in cats and that a
vaccine containing the fimbrial antigen induces a protective immune
A tracheal wash is a must for a definitive diagnosis of bordetella.
From the tracheal wash, a culture and sensitivity will be run to
determine the most effective medication. Make SURE that it's indicated
on the lab order that a test specific for bordatella is run (the labs don't usually test for this if it's a feline sample). Be sure the cats have NOT been on any medications when you take them in for the tracheal wash -- the culture's results will not be accurate! It can> mutate quickly to become resistant to whatever medication you have been using, which is why a culture and sensitivity is recommended.
Symptoms that have been seen in catteries with positive cultures:
Dry cough, and quite often some nasal congestion and other
typical URI symptoms
Typical URI snotty nose, with varying degrees of eye
involvement from none at all to moderate (rarely severe)
The "cough" -- rather than a true cough, is more a gagging
Increase in neonate death to pneumonia
The perfectly healthy cat or kitten one day...to dead the
next. This is a result of the cat equivalent of walking
pneumonia. The lungs are totally blown before even the cat
knows he is sick.
Kittens show few symptoms and the end comes quickly: small
amounts of nasal discharge, perhaps a choking cough/gagging.
The biggest danger of this bug is in the cases of TOTALLY asymptomatic cats! These are the ones that are infecting others and they are also the ones who likely will be the rapid onset of pneumonia death. If it> is bordetella, the ONLY thing that will work is to treat EVERY cat and
kitten in the house for at least 21-30 days, using different
antibiotics for different cases.
Baytril & Gentocin: at the high end of the normal cat/kitten dose.
On pregnant and nursing girls we used a cephalasporine at 4 times the
Antirobe is an alternative for pregnant/nursing females.
Gentocin and Chloramphenicol cannot be given long-term because of nephrotoxicity. Vets have had some breeders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area give everyone 5 days of Gentocin, then follow up with Doxycycline or Baytril.
Primaxin may be THE single most effective antibiotic. It has several
downsides, though. It must be given 3 times daily by intramuscular
injection. A 5-day course of treatment for one cat, at wholesale cost,
is approximately $100. This is simply not practical for large or
multiple-cat households, but in the case of that one very, very
special cat, keep it in mind.
Anna used Primaxin only on the 3 chronic girls, plus a litter of 3 who
were born to one of the chronic girls, for 5 days, followed by yet
more doxycyline on the adults, and a try at Tribrissen on the nursing
mom/kits. All cleared up. Since then, two of the chronic girls have
had some minor sneezing bouts. Two of the kittens have remained clear;
one has not (and appears to be chronic as well...not sick, just
continually snotty). One of the chronic girls is a spay; and Anna is
considering spaying the other two, even though the one that seems to have passed this on to her kits is a DM. Another person Anna knows, though, claims she never had a kitten closer to death recover, and
sings the praises of the drug.
Lorraine Shelton, another MIT Fancier's List member and an immunology researcher, states that it must be treated aggressively with
erythromycin-class drugs (azithromycin), and doxycylince, and
recommends vaccinating your remaining cats with the canine intranasal
In Feline Infectious Diseases, Chapter 23, Niels C. Pedersen, says
Bordetella bronchiseptica pneumonia can be readily treated with
antibiotics, such as chloramphenicol, gentamincin, kanamycin and
tetracycline and therapy should be continued for about 14 days.
PREVENTION AND VACCINATION
Since there are no feline vaccines* for bordetella, the canine
vaccines are being used for cats and quite successfully. Anna's vet has her using both kinds, the intranasal modified-live and the killed injectable. There are a few reactions to the intranasal, but nothing severe. The intranasal dose can be divided between two adult cats or 3> kittens. The injectable should be given in the full 1cc dose for both
cats and kittens. Kittens can have some transient sneezing reactions to the intranasals.
* Note: August, 1998, a FELINE
vaccine for bordetalla is available!
Please check with your veterinarian
about vaccinating your kittens and
cats with it.
For the breeders who are vaccinating as a preventative, and have not
had a positive bordetella culture in their cattery, Anna's vet
recommends starting kittens with the intranasal about the time you
begin their other vaccines...just sandwiching it in weeks between
their regular vaccinations. In Anna's case (and in other breeders who
have had active infection) the vet has her starting all kittens at 3
weeks of age with the intranasal.
Do you start all the cats with the intranasal vaccine? Just the
younger ones with it and older ones with injections? Anna says all her cats and kittens get both. The intranasal is designed to replicate only in the mucosal passages, and gives the best protection at the> site of infection. The injectable gives a better serum protection and
is, therefore, also better for mothers to pass on to babies in the
colostrum. That's why Anna's vet recommends the use of both vaccines
in everyone. He further recommends that the intranasal be administered
twice yearly, and the injectable once yearly.
Pat Decano who has also had bordetella, follows Anna's vaccination
schedule as her guideline, and swears it's the one she's going to
follow forever because it makes so much sense. She had previously been
using the suggested vaccination schedule outlined in an article by cat
fanciers published in 1993.
Anna laments, "The down side is that 3 cats are left with chronic
sinusitis, but it's not bordatella. I can't bring myself to put any
more down, so I guess I'll just have three cats who will occasionally
blow green snot allover the place."
During the height of the plague, Anna hadn't been feeling up to snuff
for a couple of days. Then one night she went to bed with chills and
fever. She thought it was a case of flu hitting. Waking up before dawn
with terrible chest pains, she even called her husbands' cardiologist!
X-rays shows Anna had fully involved walking pneumonia with a spiked
temperature of 105! She had never had a sniffle or sneeze and she
didn't think to draw the parallel there until it was over...but yet,
bordatella can cross to humans as well!
Pat also had walking pneumonia, last May, and when she mentioned to
her doctor it might have been bordatella, he said, "You mean
bordatella pertussis?" They don't know for sure if it was because a
bordetella culture wasn't done on Pat. The doctor did mention at the
time that it could possibly be legionnaire's disease. We don't know if
that is related. However, the bottom line is that too few vets and physicians acknowledge or understand what we, of the the cat fancy, are experiencing.
Did you know....whooping cough is another of bordetella (Bordatella Pertusis). Interestingly, a local newspaper reported there has been an increase of whooping cough in the Pacific Northwest where Pat lives.> Kinda' makes you wonder!
I asked Anna a lot of questions, after seeing her story online, since
one of my kittens had a funny swallow/gag reflex, and died without any
other symptoms a couple days later. This kitten was up, running
around, and acting normal except for the swallow/gag. I did culture
another kitten that I put down because it was not responding to
antibiotics, and found pasturella, which does live in cat's throats in
small amounts all the time. Treatment is basically the same as for
bordetella. We now vaccinate for bordetella, starting with early
vaccines on the kittens. All the adults have been vaccinated as well.
Hopefully, this will also act as a preventative to pasturella as well!
Anna states that the bordetella vaccines appear to be doing their job
in the months since her original postings. She's had several litters of kittens grow up without a sniffle one, and go on to their new pet homes with a clean bill of health. Her vet has given her the "all clear" to begin showing again for the first time in nearly two years, promising no danger of carrying this plague into showhalls and passing it on to other catteries.
Anna's tip for placing kittens or cats while there are symptomatic cats in the home is:
Put them through a full two weeks of antibiotics, then take
them immediately to the vet. Board the kittens for a week
without further antibiotics. When no symptoms show up in
that time, it is felt safe for them to go to their new home
without danger of infecting cats already in those homes. If the kittens stay in the cattery while there are symptomatic
cats in the home, there is the possibility that they would
be re-infected. In this case, the boarding fee is reasonable
and certainly worth it for peace of mind.
There probably have been more articles in the cat fancy on bordetella
in cats than there have been in veterinary literature where it is only
mentioned in passing. Cat fanciers Sue Servies and Brenda Kinnunen
wrote an article a few years ago from their experiences, called
Bordetella Bronchiseptica, describing symptoms and treatment. It was
first published in the Scratch Sheet and later recapped in Cat World
International, January/February 1993 issue, in the Newsletter Nuggets
column. CFA judge Kitty Angell wrote about it in her Cat Fancy column
in January 1995. There is an article in the July-Sept. 1995 f the
International Himalayan Society Newsletter, by B. Kent Cooper, DVM.
From Anna: "The testing is definitive; proper treatment (proper
antibiotics along with treating every cat) can eliminate the disease,
and vaccines can protect against it, so if the awareness is there,
there's no reason that this disease should be as devastating as some
of the big baddies, like FIP or FeLV . . . or even as devastating as I
and some other folks have experienced. A vaccine specific for cats is
the ultimate goal, but we MUST interest some researchers in this,
because until there is a study done, vets will continue to be
skeptical or simply overlook the possibility of bordetella. I haven't
kept actual count of how many people I know with confirmed cases, but
I'd estimate that since I began talking about it, the numbers of
people who have called me have gone on up into the dozens. And my poor
vet, Kent Cooper, has patiently fielded calls from breeders and their
vets all over the U.S. He just shakes his head in amazement at our
breeders' "grapevine." In fact, perhaps you'd better add an "Attaboy"
and a big thanks to him on behalf of ALL the breeders who have
benefited from his first zeroing in on the problem and helping other
breeders' vets to deal with it."
To Veterinarians: Listen to what a breeder says. If we don't seem to
be medically educated, take the time to find out what we are trying to
tell you. We are far more observant than the average pet owner and our
cattery experiences are often the preliminary field studies to formal
research that results in discoveries and changes in veterinary
knowledge. Pay particular attention to the symptoms of a runny nose
with thick, slightly discolored, or yellow discharge, or a
gagging-like cough. Check for bordetella in any suspicious cases. It
IS on the rise in the cats.
To Breeders: Start vaccinating your cats and kittens against
bordetella as soon as you read this. Take this article to your vet. If
your cats get bordetella, share your experiences with others, and, if
possible, write about them so that even more people will know about
it. As Anna says, "The key is awareness." Together, with our vets, we
can keep this new enemy from becoming a major problem in our cats.