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Chlamydiosis in Cats

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Chlamydiosis in cats

Chlamydiosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydia psittaci.  Unlike other bacteria that live outside cells, Chlamydia live and multiply inside cells.  Most Chlamydia infections in cats result in chronic inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and the conjunctiva surrounding the eyeball.  In fact, chlamydiosis is one of the most common causes of infectious conjunctivitis in cats.


Chlamydia are not able to survive for long in the environment, so the infection spreads from cat to cat through direct or close contact.  The incubation period from infection to signs of conjunctivitis is usually between 3 and 10 days.  Any cat can become infected, but young cats and kittens are especially vulnerable.


Cats with chlamydiosis usually have red, swollen conjunctiva and watery eyes.  The nictitating membrane or “third eyelid” in the inner corner of the eye may become red and partially protrude across the eye.  Initially, the eye(s) has a watery discharge, which may become thicker and yellow or greenish.  Cats often keep the affected eye(s) closed and may paw or rub at it.  Most cats with chlamydiosis remain otherwise healthy and active, although some may develop sniffles and sneezes.  In more severe cases, cats can develop a fever or lose their appetite.  In kittens, the infection can become widespread and cause life-threatening pneumonia.


Chlamydiosis can be difficult to differentiate from other causes of conjunctivitis.  Your veterinarian may recommend taking a swab sample of the conjunctive for a bacterial culture.  Antibodies against Chlamydia can also be detected in the blood.


Untreated conjunctivitis can persist for several weeks or months, during which time your cat is a source of infection to other cats.  There may also be apparent recovery that is followed by relapse of the illness.  Because Chlamydia is spread by close contact, other cats in your home are also at risk of infection.  On rare occasions, Chlamydia can also spread to people, so consult your physician if anyone in your household develops sore or runny eyes.


Chlamydiosis can be treated with oral antibiotics, which are generally continued for at least 4 weeks and at least 10 days after the eye(s) appears normal.  Your vet may also recommend an antibiotic eye ointment.  It is usually a good idea to treat all cats in the household, even if they do not show signs of illness, to eliminate carriers.  Vaccines to prevent chlamydiosis can be useful in some cases.  Your vet can help you decide if Chlamydia vaccination is a good idea for your cat.

 

Q&A

What is chlamydiosis?

Chlamydiosis is a disease of cats caused by the bacteria Chlamydia psittaci.  Most cases result in chronic inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and the conjunctiva surrounding the eyeball.  


How does chlamydiosis spread?

Chlamydia live and multiply inside cells, and are not able to survive for long in the environment.  Therefore, infection spreads from cat to cat through direct or close contact.  


Are all cats at risk?

Any cat can become infected, but young cats and kittens are especially vulnerable.  Signs of infection usually show up within 3-10 days of close contact with an infected cat.  


How is chlamydiosis treated?

Chlamydiosis can be treated with oral antibiotics, which are generally continued for at least 4 weeks and at least 10 days after the eye(s) appears normal.  Your vet may also recommend an antibiotic eye ointment.  


How can recurrences be prevented?

It is usually a good idea to treat all cats in the household, even if they do not show signs of illness, to eliminate carriers.  Vaccines to prevent chlamydiosis can be useful in some cases.  

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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