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Can Cats Get Kennel Cough?

We’ve touched on basically every aspect of kennel cough in dogs and humans, but what about cats? Is kennel cough contagious to cats?

You might be thinking, how could my cat get kennel cough? They barely allow me to touch them!  

Cat CoughingThat’s a great point, and you’re right. People don’t usually board their cats when they go away. If you’re lucky, you have a trustworthy friend or family member to stop in daily and give them a pile of food while you are on vacation.

Cats don’t socialize the same way dogs do, and they definitely have no interest in going to a park to see all of their cat friends. They are content with lying on a pile of clothes you left on your bed for the entire workday – but is it possible? Can cats get kennel cough?

The sad answer is yes. Everyone can get kennel cough – even cats!

First, a quick review of kennel cough

What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is a highly contagious illness that can wreak havoc in animal shelters, boarding facilities and doggy daycares alike. It is one of the most common ailments in dogs, and luckily, it is very treatable.

The kennel cough bacteria, bordetella brochiseptica, is the reason for all the fuss. Bordetella is a sneaky little bacteria that will latch on to any pre-existing immunodeficiency it can.

Most times, bordetella accompanies a virus or disease that is already present in the system. So, animals with lowered immune systems, like older or immunocompromised animals, will be more vulnerable to the bacteria than others.

So now you ask…

What Is Kennel Cough In Cats?

Cat With Kennel CoughJust as dogs and humans can transfer and contract kennel cough, so can cats.

Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacteria for upper respiratory infections in cats, while the viruses cause 90% of upper respiratory infections in cats:

  • Feline herpesvirus
  • Feline calicivirus

Similar to dogs, kitty cats are more likely to get bordetella if they already have one of these viruses or a compromised immune system due to age or other viral infections.

How Does Kennel Cough Spread To Cats?

One likely scenario of a cat contracting kennel cough is from an animal shelter. Please don’t let this discourage you from adopting from local shelters, for they are the ones that need you the most.

Often animal shelters don’t have the best air circulation, making them an excellent place for bordetella to hang out. 

Bordetella is transmitted by way of airborne droplets or aerosol, meaning that it is spread via particles in the air from infected mammals through:

  1. Direct contact with an infected animal
  2. Airborne droplets
  3. Contaminated water and food bowls

Direct Contact With An Infected Animal

Direct contact is a bit more far fetched for cats than it is for dogs. You generally don’t see a domesticated cat rubbing noses with strangers while they’re out and about.

The transmission of bordetella and other contagious diseases will more likely come from touching noses with other animals with which the cat feels comfortable. These could be animals that live with you, or if you have an outdoor cat, a neighbourhood friend.

Airborne Droplets

Kennel cough can easily be transmitted from animal to animal via droplets in the air. Sneezing and coughing in the general vicinity of another animal can quickly lead to a bordetella break out.

Contaminated Food And Water Bowls

The same airborne droplets that we spoke of before can infect the water and food bowls they used. Typically the bordetella bacteria can only live for a few hours outside of their host.

However, a study showed that Bordetella brochiseptica lived in fresh, natural seawater for three weeks. Yuck!

What Are The Symptoms Of Kennel Cough In Cats?

Symptoms of Kennel Cough in CatsCats suffer from many of the same symptoms of kennel cough in dogs.

The number one symptom in any mammal with kennel cough is, you guessed it, a hacking, unproductive and persistent cough.

The most common symptoms of kennel cough in cats are:

  1. Persistent cough
  2. Watery, cloudy eyes
  3. Nasal secretions
  4. Sneezing

Persistent Cough

Dog and cat owners who have heard the sounds of kennel cough cringe at the thought of reoccurrence. The cough accompanying bordetella is one of the hacking varieties that is dry and unproductive.

What Does Kennel Cough In Cats Sound Like?

Bordetella can cause persistent coughing, which irritates the throat and ends in louder, longer coughing fits. This can sound similar to coughing up furballs, and all cat owners know that sound.

If you notice your cat coughs or gags often with no outcome of a shaggy pile, consult your vet.

Watery, Cloudy Eyes

Cat parents will notice their feline having watery eyes that may appear cloudy or glazed over. Cloudy eyes could result from several things such as injuries, glaucoma or cataracts. If you notice your cat’s eyes are getting more clouded, it’s a valid reason to consult your vet.

Nasal Secretions

It seems like no mammal can have any cold or flu-like illness without a box of tissues on hand. Your cat may not like your help when it comes to wiping their nose, but you can wipe their eyes and nose with a soft, warm, moist cloth. If they hate the idea of that, then they will figure out their way. They are super independent, remember?


Yes, an infrequent sneeze alone is not a reason to worry about your pet. Sneezing constantly and with nasal secretions, however, can be. If you notice your cat is sneezing more than ever, something has changed.

Sneezing in cats can also result from irritants like:

  • dust
  • pollen
  • smoke
  • essential oils

If your cat’s condition is ignored or in the case that they are re-infected a second time, more severe symptoms can arise. These can include:

  1. Fever
  2. Lethargy
  3. Loss of appetite


Healthy cat’s and dog’s body temperatures are higher than humans’. Both cat’s and dog’s resting body temperatures can range from about 38.3°C to 39.2°C (101°F to 102.5°F), but if it’s anything higher than 39.4°C (103°F), it can be bad news. Consult your vet immediately.


Nothing worries a pet owner more than a passive, sedentary animal. A cat with an upper respiratory infection or kennel cough may act and feel extraordinarily sleepy and out of the ordinary.

Cats sleep regularly, but if you think they seem off, take note.

Does your cat usually wake you up at 5 am for their breakfast but haven’t been for the last few days? Are they running to the bowl like every other day when you put food down for them?

You know your pet better than anyone. If your intuition is telling you something is not right, you are probably correct. At the very least, it is worth your attention and a consultation with your vet.

Loss Of Appetite

Loss of appetite is almost always a sign of something abnormal and unsavoury. Reasons for loss of appetite can vary, but animals will never stop eating because they’re trying to go easy on the carbs.

Animals like food and domesticated animals know who is responsible for feeding them. Some animals may be picky eaters, but if they are disinterested in even their favourite “people foods,” you need to get them to the vet.

CoughPrescription cough suppressants – no over-the-counter junk!
Runny nose & eyesWipe them with a warm (not hot) soft cloth when the allow it.
FeverRest, hydration, and good nutrition can help a cat recover faster. Consult your vet if your cat has a fever.
Loss of appetiteTry enticing them with something they really enjoy. If appetite is lost for more than 24 hours, get to the vet.
LethargyLet them rest and keep a close eye on other symptoms. Consult your vet to create a plan of action.

Kitten Kennel Cough

Kitten Kennel CoughAll babies have underdeveloped immune systems simply because they haven’t had the time to grow a fully supportive one yet. Because of this, healthy kittens are more vulnerable than healthy, full-grown cats.

Assuming a coughing kitten has come from a shelter or foster home with other animals, it’s more than likely that they have some type of upper respiratory infection from whence they came. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the shelter is dirty or neglectful, only that bordetella is a nasty little bacteria that wants what it wants and will infect whoever it can on its way through.

Kittens need extra coddling when they are sick to be sure they are getting the nutrition and hydration they need for recovery. In the case that a kitten has symptoms of kennel cough, get them to the vet immediately. Their little bodies can’t take much at that age, so proactive is the name of the game.

Kennel Cough Symptoms In Kittens

Kittens endure the same symptoms as adult cats, though they may not be able to handle them as well.

Symptoms in kittens and puppies can worsen quickly and even lead to pneumonia if left untreated.

Kittens can get stressed out pretty easily while getting used to their new life, and stress lessens their already weak immune system. Stress can come in many forms, both positive and negative.

Kitten Stressors:

  1. Moving to their new forever home
  2. Meeting the other pets in their new home
  3. Kids

Moving To Their New Forever home

Yes, it’s wonderful that you have chosen to take this baby kitty home and plan to cuddle and love them for the rest of their lives, but can you imagine being pulled from a crate and the next thing you know you’re in a new house, with new humans, and animals? That’s a lot of stress for a baby of any species.

Meeting Other Pets In The New Home

As soon as you plop this little fuzzball on the floor, your bullmastiff comes over to see what’s going on. The tiny baby’s life may flash before its eyes before the big beast shows his true colours with a gentle sniff and nudge.

Animals cohabitate pretty well in general, but it can take time. Keep an eye on them and don’t force any bonding too quickly. They will get there sooner than you think.


Kids can be rough. They’re always picking up under the front legs and letting their hind end dangle. Some tolerant cats might put up with this but don’t come crying to me when the kid gets scratched because they never learned how to handle animals.

Supervise your kids when introducing a new animal to the family. Teach them how to handle animals gently before you let your three-year-old play with the new kitty or puppy.

Symptoms for kennel cough in kittens include:

  • Persistent coughing, gagging, hacking
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
Kitten & Cat StressorRemedy
Moving to a new homeTake it slow. Let them be who they are and don’t rush them. Allow them to hide under the bed or in a room with food and water until they decide they are ready.
Meeting new “forever” family membersSupervise your existing animals with your new cat. Survey body language but let the animals bond in their own time.
KidsTeach your child how to handle gently and supportively before you allow them to pick the cat or kitten up. Cats can get traumatised easily and eventually hate being handled. Don’t make it a bad experience for them.

Can Cats Get Kennel Cough From Infected Dogs?

Yes. Cats can get kennel cough from their direct contact with their canine buddies or from sharing water or food bowls. Sharing blankets and bedding with an infected dog can even lead to transmission of the illness.

Can Dogs Get Kennel Cough From Infected Cats?

Yes. Dogs and cats can continue to transmit the bacteria back and forth if proper isolation, sanitation and recovery guidelines are not followed.

How Do Cats Get Kennel Cough?

  • An infected canine or feline family member (rabbits, guinea pigs and horses can get it too)
  • Animal shelter
  • Contaminated water and food bowls
  • Contaminated toys and bedding

Kennel Cough Treatment For Cats

Oftentimes, with good nutrition and care, cats can recuperate within one to two weeks of the onset of kennel cough.

The vet can also offer some things to soothe a sore throat or quiet a cough, but there are a lot of things you can do to aid in your pet’s recovery at home.

What Are The Treatment Options For Cat Kennel Cough?

  1. Rest
  2. Hydration
  3. Healthy nutrition
  4. Isolation
  5. Cough suppressants
  6. Antibiotics


There’s nothing like some good R&R to kick a lingering sickness. Give your cat the space they need to rest and relax.


Cats don’t typically lap up water like dogs do because they don’t have sweat glands and retain moisture better than dogs. Cats descend from lions, cheetahs, and panthers that come from hot climates where they evolved to survive. Your little lion might need a little reminder to stay hydrated while they’re feeling ill.

Healthy Nutrition

Not eating enough or eating low-quality foods will only hinder your cat’s recovery. Offer them healthy things they really like to entice them into eating even when they might not feel like it.


This one is key for keeping kennel cough contained and not transferring it back and forth among your animals indefinitely.

Cats are easier to isolate than dogs in some ways. Let them stay in their favourite room of the house with fresh food and water in clean bowls. Put a clean litter pan in one corner, and freshly washed bedding in the other. They probably won’t appreciate the closed door, but you can check on them and give them scratches often.

If you are immunocompromised, wear a mask and hold off on the kisses until they are no longer contagious.

Cough Suppressants

Your vet may prescribe cough medicine to suppress your cats’ retching. Whatever you do, don’t buy over-the-counter meds for your feline, please.


Your vet may prescribe a round of antibiotics, especially if reinfection is on the horizon.

Is There A Kennel Cough Vaccine For cats?

Kennel Cough Vaccine for CatsYes. There are bordetella vaccines for both cats and dogs.

The vaccine is encouraged for those that are in areas with many other strange animals—cats who are boarded or, live or visit catteries.


We as humans are so lucky that animals allow us to keep them in our houses, take them for walks, and adventures, even cry into their soft fur.

They are our therapy and confidants, and one of the few creatures on earth that will love us unconditionally. Don’t they deserve all the comfort and care we can offer them?

If you have any questions about Kennel Cough, get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to provide additional information and support.