Bacterial Diseases in Cats

View the Things You Didn't Know About Your Pet Slideshow Pictures

Bacterial Diseases in Cats

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.

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.


Campylobacteriosis is a disease that produces acute infectious diarrhea in kittens. It also occurs in catteries and shelter cats-most of whom are in poor condition and are suffering from other intestinal infections.

The bacterium is acquired by contact with contaminated food, water, uncooked poultry or beef, or animal feces. Campylobacter species can survive for up to five weeks in water or unpasteurized milk.

The incubation period for disease is one to seven days. Signs of acute infection include vomiting and watery diarrhea that contains mucus and sometimes blood. The disease usually runs its course in 5 to 15 days, but may be followed by chronic diarrhea in which bacteria is shed in the feces.

Treatment: Treat mild diarrhea. Keep the cat warm, dry, and in a stress-free environment. More severely affected cats will require veterinary management with intravenous fluids to correct dehydration. Antibiotics may be advisable. Erythromycin and ciprofloxacin are the current drugs of choice.

Public health considerations: Campylobacteriosis is a common cause of diarrhea in humans. Most human cases arise from contact with newly acquired kittens and puppies who are suffering from diarrhea. Parents should be aware that kittens with diarrhea may harbor zoonotic pathogens. Good hygiene is essential, especially for young children and people who are immunocompromised.


Bordetella bronchiseptica is a cause of upper respiratory infection in cats. This bacteria is present in normal, healthy cats as well, so it seems to be a problem secondary to viral upper respiratory infections. Rarely, pneumonia will develop.

This illness is more severe in young cats and in shelters or situations with crowding, poor ventilation, and stress. Clinical signs include lethargy, fever, anorexia, coughing, sneezing, discharges from the eyes and nose, and swollen lymph nodes under the chin. Difficulty breathing suggests pneumonia.

Treatment: Supportive care is important, with antibiotics if needed. An intranasal vaccine is available.

This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Reviewed on 12/3/2009 11:30:04 AM

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors