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Cats + Infectious Diseases

  • COVID-19 is a human respiratory disease that was initially discovered late in 2019. This disease is caused by a new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that has not previously been identified in humans. Physical distancing, or social distancing, is one of the most effective strategies available to reduce the spread of COVID-19. While social distancing, walking your dog is fine as long as you are feeling well and can remain at least 6 feet away from other people. If you have cats, find new ways to play with them indoors. Many veterinary clinics are adjusting their policies to reflect social distancing guidance related to COVID-19. If your pet needs veterinary care (or if you need to pick up medication, a prescription diet, etc.), call your veterinary hospital first to determine how to proceed.

  • Feline poxvirus is a relative of human smallpox virus seen mainly in Asia, Europe, and England. It mainly causes skin lesions around the head, neck, or forelimb such as ulcerations, scabs, or abscesses. Cats often recover on their own with no further symptoms unless they are immunocompromised. There is no specific treatment or vaccine. Antibiotics may be used to control secondary infections. The virus can be transmitted to humans, usually causing single lesions on the hand or face, but sometimes also causes fever or headache.

  • Rabies is a viral disease that can infect all warm-blooded animals, including cats and people, although some species are somewhat naturally resistant to the disease. When signs of rabies occur, it is an almost invariably fatal disease.

  • Ringworm is the common name given to a fungal infection of the superficial layers of the skin, hair, and nails. The common name of ringworm is somewhat misleading, in that it is not an infection caused by a worm, and the infected areas are not always ring-shaped. Ringworm can be challenging to detect in cats, since the lesions of ringworm may be very mild or even undetectable.

  • H1N1 influenza virus emerged in pigs as a genetic sharing of DNA from both human and swine influenza viruses. It caused a deadly pandemic in 2009 and continues to be an important cause of illness today. Pets including cats and dogs can be infected from their owners and become ill. It is not yet thought to transfer from pets to humans. Because influenza viruses appear to be capable of swapping genes, there is potential for new variants of influenza viruses to be generated at any time leading to another pandemic of severe disease in humans and other animals. Good hygiene and exposure restriction should be taken immediately if there is any sign of influenza-like infection to restrict spread between humans and between humans and their pets or domestic animals.

  • Heartworm disease is a parasitic disease that typically affects dogs but can occasionally occur in cats. Heartworm is usually diagnosed with a simple blood test. There are two main tests for detecting heartworm infection; one test detects adult worms and the other detects microfilaria. Unlike in dogs, treatment options are limited. Heartworm preventives are available for cats. Your veterinarian can advise you on the best prevention program for your cat.

  • Tetanus is a medical condition caused by a toxin. This toxin, produced by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, affects the nerves, spinal cord, and brain, leading to hyperexcitability resulting in muscle spasms. Cats are less susceptible to the effects of tetanus toxin than humans and horses. Tetanus is typically diagnosed based on exam findings. Cats with tetanus require intensive nursing care. Most cats develop localized, self-limiting disease, which will respond to appropriate early treatment.

  • **This article has been specifically written for pet sitters and how they can reduce their exposure to COVID-19.** COVID-19 is a new respiratory disease in humans, initially discovered late in 2019. Although all coronaviruses are related, they are not all the same virus. As a pet sitter, it is important to limit direct contact with your clients. People can shed the virus without showing any symptoms of disease, so it is important to practice social distancing even with clients who appear healthy. It is also important to limit your contact with potentially contaminated items in your clients’ homes, whether they are at home or not. The most important things you can do to minimize your risk of infection, and minimize the risk of transferring infection to your clients, is to be cautious when interacting with clients and when touching anything that could be contaminated. Communicate with your clients regularly during this pandemic. Having information about your clients’ health can help you avoid taking unnecessary risks. Finally, if you develop any signs of COVID-19, including cough, fever, and/or shortness of breath, it is important that you stay home from work.

  • Tularemia is an infection of the bacteria Francisella tularensis and is most common in rabbits and rodents. Infection in cats occurs from ingestion of an infected animal, contaminated water, or the bite of a blood sucking insect. Tularemia causes acute illness, enlarged lymph nodes, abdominal pain, jaundice, and organ system failure. Diagnosis includes physical exam, baseline bloodwork, and urine tests, as well as paired serum titers. PCR can also be used to identify the bacteria in a blood sample. Treatment requires hospitalization and supportive care including IV fluids and antibiotics. Prognosis is guarded to poor depending on how early treatment is initiated. Tularemia is a reportable zoonotic disease.

  • Uveitis is an inflammation of one or more of the structures making up the uvea. It can be very painful and can lead to blindness. It may be a primary condition or a sign of an underlying condition. The usual signs of uveitis are severe pain with an intense reddening of the visible parts of the eye. The eye is usually kept shut and most pets avoid bright lights. Diagnosis will include a thorough physical exam along with other tests to determine if there is an underlying condition. Treatment is initially aimed at reducing inflammation and providing pain relief and may include other treatments if an underlying condition is identified.