Respiratory diseases in kittens can quickly result in life-threatening emergencies if not identified and managed early. Viral respiratory infections in cats are most commonly caused by feline herpesvirus type 1 and feline calicivirus. The Bordetella bronchiseptica infection may cause severe respiratory signs in young kittens. Young kittens (less than 8 weeks of age) are at most risk in which bronchiseptica pneumonia is usually a primary or significant cause of death. The younger the age at infection, the more severe the disease. Mortality is nearly 100% in young (under 6 week old) kittens. According to the Humane Society of the United States, routine vaccination against this respiratory infection is not recommended, but in shelters and boarding facilities, where it is commonly present, it should be considered.
Signs of the infection may include rhinitis, eye and nasal discharge, high fever, sneezing and coughing. The cough can be dry, "hairballlike," which may or may not be preceded by vomiting. In the more severely affected kittens, the cough can become progressively more "wet" sounding, exhibiting a "barking" or "whooping" type cough, with the cat struggling to catch it's breath.
Studies show that the infection is commonly found in cats from premises with large numbers of animals, such as rescue catteries, breeding catteries, but is almost never found in household cats. There is also a high risk of contracting the bacteria via contact with a dog with recent respiratory tract disease. Some cats may become long-term carriers. Recovered cats have been reported to shed the bacteria for at least 19 weeks after initial exposure. If one cat in the household has been diagnosed, all cats have been exposed and must be treated. Even after a full scale treatment, breeders have reported recurrent outbreaks that required isolation and additional treatment. If you consider placing you cat or kitten at a boarding facility, it is recommended that cats be vaccinated to protect against Bordetella bronchisepticaprior to entering the facility.