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Salmonella and Bacterial Diseases in Cats

This disease is caused by a type of bacteria that produces gastrointestinal infection in susceptible animals. It tends to affect kittens housed in crowded, unsanitary surroundings and cats whose natural resistance has been weakened by a viral infection, malnutrition, or other stress. Salmonella remain alive for many months or years in soil and manure. In cats, the disease is acquired by consuming raw or commercially contaminated foods, by licking animal manure off their feet or coats, or by making oral contact with surfaces that have been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected cat. This bacterial infection is a risk for cats fed a raw diet, unless excellent food-handling hygiene is practiced at all times.

Signs of infection include high fever, vomiting and diarrhea (in 90 percent of cases), dehydration, and weakness. The stool may be bloody and foul smelling. Dehydration develops when vomiting and diarrhea are prolonged. Bacteria in the bloodstream can cause abscesses in the liver, kidneys, uterus, and lungs. Conjunctivitis will be seen in some cats. The acute illness, which lasts four to ten days, may be followed by a chronic diarrhea that persists for more than a month. Death will occur in about half of cases. Abortions have been reported.

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Cats (and dogs) often are asymptomatic carriers. Bacteria shed in their feces can, under appropriate conditions, produce active infection in domestic animals and humans.

Diagnosis is made by identifying salmonella bacteria in stool cultures (carrier state) or in the blood, feces, and infected tissues of cats suffering acute infection.

Treatment: Mild, uncomplicated cases respond to correction of the dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea. Antibiotics (chloramphenicol, amoxicillin, the quinolone class of antibiotics, and sulfa drugs) are reserved for severely ill cats. Antibiotics can favor the growth of drug-resistant salmonella species. When antibiotics are used, it is best to administer them via injection and not orally. This will minimize the chances of the cat developing resistant strains of this bacteria.

Intravenous fluids will be needed for severely ill cats. Even cats with mild cases of this type of infectious diarrhea may need subcutaneous fluids and replacement of electrolytes.

Prevention: Prevent the disease by housing cats in roomy, sanitary conditions where they can be well cared for and properly fed.

Public health considerations: Since this is a disease that can spread to people, excellent hygiene must be practiced when handling feces and cleaning litter boxes.

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