Cats can contract leptospirosis, a bacterial spirochete infection. In this post, our Danbury vets explain how leptospirosis spreads among cats, how you can recognize it, and when you should call a vet.
Cats & Leptospirosis
Leptospires replicate throughout a cat's body, including the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, eyes, and reproductive system. When an infection occurs in the liver or kidneys it can cause severe organ damage, which can be fatal.
As leptospirosis is classified as a zoonotic disease, it can spread from animals to humans. Children are especially vulnerable to contracting this parasitic infection from an infected pet. Young cats with underdeveloped immune systems are more vulnerable to serious consequences from the disease.
Signs & Symptoms of Leptospirosis in Cats
Leptospirosis can cause a wide range of symptoms in cats. Therefore, it's incredibly important to see your veterinarian, or an emergency vet, if you suspect your cat may have contracted the parasite.
- Runny nose
- Spontaneous cough
- Dark red speckled gums
- Increased thirst and urination, progressing into rapid dehydration and the inability to urinate.
- Lack of appetite
- Sore or stiff muscles, legs, and/or gait and/or a reluctance to move
- Sudden fever and illness
- Yellow skin and/or whites of eyes
- Swelling of the mucous membrane or mild swelling of the lymph nodes
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea, possibly with blood
- Difficulty breathing, fast breathing, irregular pulse
- Bloody vaginal discharge for female cats
How Cats Get Leptospirosis
Leptospira spirochete infections are more common in subtropical, tropical, and moist regions. However, the infection rate among domestic pets in the United States and Canada is growing, with illnesses becoming most common in the autumn months.
Cats that live near wooded areas or near/on farms are more likely to become infected. This is because Leptospira spirochetes are most prevalent in marshy/muddy areas with stagnant surface water. In addition to this, heavily irrigated pastures are also common sources of infection, owing to the possibility of infected soil or mud. Cats can also contract Leptospirosis from the urine of other infected animals.
Diagnosing Leptospirosis In Cats
Because leptospirosis is a zoonotic illness, your veterinarian will use extreme caution when handling your cat. They must wear latex gloves at all times and all bodily fluids will be handled as biologically hazardous materials. Urine, sperm, vomit, and any other fluid that exits the body has to be handled with particular care.
Your veterinarian will want a full history of your cat's health, including their recent activity and past symptoms. The information you give your vet might help them determine what stage of infection your cat is at and the organs being impacted.
Your vet may also conduct a range of diagnostic tests to get a better understanding of your cat's case.
Treating Leptospirosis in Cats
Fluid therapy will be the primary treatment for correcting the consequences of dehydration. If your cat has been vomiting they might be given an antiemetic or anti-vomiting medication. If your cat's ability to eat or keep food down is being impaired because of sickness, a gastric tube may be used to provide sustenance.
Your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics for at least four weeks. The type of antibiotic they provide will depend on the stage of infection. Penicillins can be used to treat initial infections, but they are ineffective at killing bacteria once it has reached the carrier stage. Some antibiotics could have major adverse effects, especially those that travel deeper into the system to eradicate infection.
The good news is that except for serious organ damage, the prognosis for recovery is usually good.
After Leptospirosis Treatments
Leptospires can be detected in a cat's urine for several weeks after therapy and apparent recovery from an infection. Appropriate handling techniques are the most effective way to prevent infection or reinfection. This includes handling all body excretions with gloves and disposing of them properly afterward. Remember to also dispose of your cat's feces and urine properly. It may also be worthwhile quarantining your pet for a few weeks after they recover. You can ask your veterinarian for more information.
Despite how well you, your family, and your other pets feel, it's always a good idea to get tested for Leptospirosis. Remember that it is a zoonotic disease, and can spread just as easily to humans as it can to other animals.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.