Health & Care
A sick tortoiseshell kitten.

Chlamydia in Cats — What It Is and What It Isn’t

What exactly is chlamydia in cats and what does it have to do with feline conjunctivitis? Is chlamydia in cats anything similar to chlamydia in humans?

Elizabeth Vecsi  |  May 17th 2019


Chlamydia in cats is a respiratory disease that is usually spread from contact with other cats. This condition is most commonly seen in young kittens and usually starts off with conjunctivitis, an abnormal eye discharge due to inflammation of the inside of the eyelid and the white part of the eye itself.

Is chlamydia in cats the same thing as chlamydia in humans?

A calico cat getting pet — might be sick or at rest.

A calico cat getting pet — might be sick or at rest. Photography © krblokhin | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

While chlamydia in humans is a common sexually-transmitted infection (STI), it has no relation to sexual activity in cats. Chlamydia in cats is one form of the feline upper respiratory disease, and those with a chlamydophia infection will also have a viral upper respiratory infection such as calicivirus or herpesvirus.

It’s important for a veterinarian to give an accurate diagnosis for chlamydia in cats since its symptoms are similar to various other conditions (more on that later).

What cats are most likely to get chlamydia?

Chlamydia in cats is most common in multicat households or where cats are housed closed together, such as breeding facilities, shelters and foster homes.

Infections are more common in purebred cats, kittens under the age of one year old, cats with compromised immune systems and those who tend to become stressed easily by changes in their environment.

How do cats get chlamydia?

Chlamydia in cats is usually most severe in kittens, who acquire chlamydia from direct contact with an infected animal’s sneeze or cough, or even during the birthing process.

Luckily, indirect contact through the environment or handling is not as likely to transmit the infection because the bacteria can’t survive too long outside a kitten or cat’s body.

Signs of chlamydia in cats

The incubation period of chlamydia in cats is between three to 10 days, and again, conjunctivitis is the predominant sign. Other symptoms of chlamydia in cats include:

  1. Fever
  2. Mouth ulcers
  3. Drooling
  4. Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  5. Depression
  6. Yellowish-green ooze in the eyes
  7. Sneezing
  8. A runny nose

Signs of chlamydia in cats can last up to several weeks, and the cat’s weakened immune system can cause secondary symptoms as well.

Treatment and prevention of chlamydia in cats

Testing is required for a definitive diagnosis because chlamydia in cats is not the only cause of pink eye or symptoms listed above. Sick cats usually respond to antibiotics, and will likely need to stay on them for three to four weeks.

In homes with multiple cats, it may be recommended that all of them are treated simultaneously due to the contagious nature of chlamydia in cats. In rare instances, people can also develop conjunctivitis as a result and also require treatment. The best prevention is to wash your hands after handling a cat with conjunctivitis.

Building on what’s mentioned above, Thomas Kern, DVM, associate professor of ophthalmology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says, “Although conjunctivitis can occur in older cats, this is an infection that occurs primarily in young animals. It is most prevalent in catteries and other multiple-cat environments. In the course of their development, young cats may pick up a virus or a bacterium from an older cat. And, like kids, they play together and pass it around. Sooner or later, they all get it.”

Thumbnail: Photography ©Angelafoto | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

About the author

Writer Elizabeth Vecsi lives in the Hudson Valley with her five cats. Over the past two decades, she has been an editor and writer for The Whole Cat Journal, Cornell’s CatWatch and Tufts’ Catnip.

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