Chlamydia in Cats

Many owners wonder: What exactly is feline chlamydia? Does Chlamydia in cats look like Chlamydia in humans?

Sources specialized in veterinary medicine describe it as a bacterial respiratory disease, whose main symptom is redness and inflammation of the membrane that covers the eyelid. In cats, this condition is caused by infection with the bacterium Chlamydophila felis.

Keep reading below to learn more about feline chlamydia, its common symptoms, ways of transmission, diagnosis, medical treatment, and prevention.

Note. Although the information about Chlamydial Conjunctivitis in cats provided in the article has been contrasted with official sources, it is noted that its content is not intended to replace the diagnosis and guidance issued by a veterinarian.

What is feline chlamydia and what characterizes it?

Chlamydia in cats is a highly contagious respiratory infection. It can affect cats of any age but is more common in young kittens. The pathogen responsible for the condition is the bacterium Chlamydophila felis (C. felis), formerly known as Chlamydia psittaci.

This bacterium primarily attaches itself to cells in the lining of the conjunctiva, but can also be found in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive organs.

The infection always affects the eye, producing conjunctivitis and different respiratory symptoms. Typically, the cat’s eyes become red, inflamed, and develop a discharge. In very young kittens, chlamydia can cause pneumonia.

How is contagion produced?

As an owner, it is normal for you to want to know if your cat is in danger of catching feline chlamydia.

The most important thing to consider is that the infection is transmitted directly and indirectly.

  • Direct transmission between cats. It occurs during direct contact with an infected cat’s sneeze, cough, or eye discharge. A mother can also pass the bacteria to her young during the birthing process.
  • Indirect transmission. This form of contagion is less likely since the C. felis bacteria do not survive for long outside the cat’s body. That said, there is a low risk of contagion through food bowls, bedding, litter boxes, etc.
  • Still, caution is advised when handling infected cats. Practicing hand washing and sanitizing helps minimize the risk of infecting other cats.

Chlamydia in cats is spread mostly through direct contact with an infected animal. The bacteria responsible for the infection have a low survival rate in the environment.

How do I know if my cat has chlamydia? 9 common symptoms

The incubation period for feline chlamydia is 3 to 10 days. Although conjunctivitis is the predominant clinical sign, your cat may show another group of symptoms.

In general, these are the 9 symptoms of chlamydia in cats:

  1. Watery or yellowish discharge from one or both eyes
  2. Swelling and redness of the conjunctiva, the white part of the eye, and the membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid
  3. Slight fever
  4. Drooling
  5. Sneezing
  6. Runny nose
  7. Mouth ulcers
  8. Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  9. Lethargy (occasional)

Initially, the eyes develop a watery discharge. As the infection progresses, the conjunctiva becomes red, inflamed, and the discharge thickens.

Conjunctivitis can start in one eye, but it usually spreads to both eyes. It can be an acute condition or it can become chronic.

Cats with chlamydia usually develop symptoms about 5 days after exposure. These can last for up to several weeks, even if treatment has been started.

Symptoms are most severe 9 to 13 days after onset, becoming mild over the next 2-3 weeks. The recurrence of chlamydia is a common problem, especially if the cat’s immune system is very weak.

It should be noted that some infected cats are asymptomatic, but that does not mean that they cannot infect other cats.

What cats are most likely to get it?

Feline chlamydia can affect all cats, regardless of their age or breed. However, certain groups are known to be more prone to infection. These include:

  • Kittens under 1 year of age, especially between 2 and 6 months of age. Note. Most cases occur in cats younger than 9 months.
  • Cats in crowded or confined conditions, such as shelters, foster homes, breeding facilities, etc.
  • Cats with compromised immune systems.

How is the diagnosis of feline chlamydia?

Veterinary staff can make a tentative diagnosis based on the presentation of symptoms. But the definitive diagnosis requires certain tests since different pathogens can produce similar symptoms.

The veterinarian must identify whether conjunctivitis and other symptoms are caused by the bacteria C. felis, or by other pathogens, such as feline herpesvirus 1 and feline calicivirus.

Typically, a sample of eye, pharyngeal, or oral discharge (conjunctival or oropharyngeal scraping) is taken and cultured to determine the source of the disease. If pneumonia is suspected, an X-ray of the lungs may be done to check for fluid.

In addition, a serology test could help identify exposure to chlamydia. Very high levels of antibodies suggest the presence of infection; however, this is not considered a reliable diagnostic test.

Note: the test assesses the body’s immune response, but sometimes a positive result simply indicates that the cat’s body has already fought off the pathogen.

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