Bubonic Plague: Cats are Highly Susceptible

Cats are highly susceptible to plague.

Bubonic plague. The Black Death. Pestilence. These are all terms that strike fear into the hearts of humans everywhere. This infection has taken the lives of millions of people over the centuries. It might surprise you to know that, not only does plague still take lives today, but it is present in the United States, mostly in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Current (April, 2015) Events: Plague Found Near Flagstaff, Arizona

Officials recently noticed a lack of prairie dog activity in burrows in Picture Canyon, just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. Fleas collected from the burrows tested positive at a lab for Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes plague. This bacteria is transmitted through the bite of infected fleas or rodents, through direct handling of infected animals, or through breathing it in when it becomes aerosolized under certain disease conditions (see "pneumonic plague" below).

The area in Arizona was sprayed with insecticides in an attempt to kill the fleas and stop the spread of plague. Hikers near the infected burrows are being cautioned to wear long pants, socks, and covered shoes while hiking. While dogs are highly resistant to developing plague, they can carry infected fleas home. These fleas may then bite humans or household cats, and those two species are highly susceptible to developing the illness.

Cats and Plague

Cats are extremely vulnerable to developing illness when they are exposed to Yersinia pestis. They are also a very common source of infection to humans. There are three symptom sets that plague can develop into:

How Do Cats Get Plague?

Cats can be exposed to plague bacteria in any of the following ways:

How Can Cats Transmit Plague to People?

Cats can transmit plague to humans by biting or scratching them. People can be exposed to the illness through direct contact with a plague cat's draining lymph node material (buboes). An infected cat may also carry fleas that can transmit Yersinia pestis to humans by biting them. If a cat has the pneumonic form of plague, it can easily be spread to humans through the air. Owners and veterinarians are at risk of contracting plague when dealing with an infected cat.

Signs of Plague in Cats

If you notice any of the signs of illness listed above in your cat, see your veterinarian immediately. If you are in or have visited an area that is known to have plague, mention it to the doctor.

Treatment of Plague in Cats

Plague is treated with a variety of antibiotics. Most cases respond well if they are caught and treated early in the disease process. Cats with the pneumonic form of plague need to be isolated and treated by people wearing full protective gear such as gloves and masks.

General Plague Prevention Tips

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