If your kitty starts coughing, hacking away like something is stuck in her throat, she could be suffering from bordetella. Better known by its nickname, kennel cough, the disease primarily affects dogs but cats can catch it from canines. The incubation period for the disease is about 2 weeks.
Bordetella got the nickname "kennel cough" because dogs usually came down with it after spending time in a boarding kennel, animal shelter or anywhere canines are kept in close proximity, with a quick turnover in population. In dogs, this bacterial infection presents itself as a hacking cough, but doesn't otherwise bother the dog. Similar to a cold in a human, the disease runs its course in about 10 days, with or without treatment. It's pretty much the same story with cats.
Cats and Bordetella
Bordetella is extremely contagious. If you adopted your cat from an animal shelter that also houses dogs, or your dog came down with the disease, feline-to-canine transmission is possible. Although cats are subject to various upper respiratory illnesses, they don't usually cough. If Kitty starts coughing constantly, especially if she's been in a situation where bordetella contagion is likely, call your vet for an appointment. Other symptoms of feline bordetella include sneezing, lack of appetite, nasal discharge and difficulty breathing. In a worst-case scenario, the cat develops pneumonia.
You can vaccinate your cat against bordetella, but it's probably not necessary unless you travel a lot and your cat stays at a boarding kennel regularly. Animal shelters might vaccinate incoming cats since the disease is so contagious. This vaccine is given intranasally, with the vet or technician administering it through the cat's nose.
Most cats get over their bordetella bout without issues, but the secondary upper respiratory infections can cause problems. Your vet might prescribe antibiotics, but for the most part treatment consists of supportive care. Keep Kitty quiet and comfortable. You might want to install a humidifier in the rooms where she sleeps or spends most of her time to help ease her breathing. If you adopt a dog or cat from a shelter, quarantine it from other pets in your house for several days to make sure it didn't bring bordetella to its new home.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.