Category: infectious diseases


Ringworm is the common name given to a fungal infection also known as dermatophytosis. Ringworm is not uncommon in cats and if your cat has skin problems it may have ringworm. The disease is highly contagious and can be passed on to humans so if any signs develop it is important that you seek veterinary advice immediately.

Ringworm is caused not by a worm but is a fungal disease resulting from infection with Microsporum canis. It is one of the most common zoonotic diseases in pets, i.e. an infectious disease that can be transmitted from dogs to other animals, including humans. Skin lesions, especially on the face, ears and limbs, and nail bed infection are common signs. The appearance is variable and the signs can look very similar to many other canine skin diseases. Patchy hair loss can also be present.

Ringworm is spread through contact with spores. These are carried on hairs from infected cats and can survive in the environment for months or even years. Many cats that come into contact with the fungus will not show any clinical signs. These animals can however carry the spores and pass these to other pets in their household.

Young cats, less than 1 year of age, are most commonly infected; but older and sick animals are also at risk. Some breeds, particularly small terriers, appear to have more chance of being infected.

Typically the disease affects the face and front paws. If infected, your cat may have patches of hair loss and red, crusted areas on its face or paws. Scratching and chewing at hair may result in vomiting of hairballs or constipation. Sometimes nails are affected resulting in nail loss or thickening. More rarely sore or ulcerated areas of skin are present.

If your vet suspects that your cat is infected they will want to take hair plucks and samples of coat brushings to confirm the diagnosis. Your vet may use an ultraviolet lamp (Wood’s lamp) to examine your pet’s hair – under ultraviolet light some types of ringworm appear to glow apple green. This is not a definite diagnosis but will identify hairs that can be used for further examination.

A rapid test is to examine the hairs under the microscope to identify fungal spores. It may be necessary to try to grow ringworm from samples and, because the fungus grows slowly, this can take several weeks for a confirmation of diagnosis. To avoid delay treatment may be started while waiting for results of tests.

Although signs of ringworm will resolve in most healthy adult cats within a few weeks without treatment, treatment is usually recommended because of the risk to other pets and to people. Ringworm can be treated with antifungal agents such as griseofulvin, ketoconazole or itraconazole as prescribed by your vet.

Clipping your cat (using scissors reduces skin trauma) may reduce the risk of your pet spreading the disease. Your vet may recommend application of an enilconazole or chlorhexidine dip or a shampoo twice weekly for 6-10 weeks or until coat brushings are negative for culture.

Gloves and protective clothing should be worn to prevent the spread of infection when treating your cat.

If one cat in a household is diagnosed with ringworm then all other animals (including humans) need to be examined for signs of infection. It may be necessary to treat all in-contact cats and dogs by the administration of oral medication and by applying a topical medication directly to the hair and skin.

Treatment should continue for 2 weeks after the lesions have disappeared or until two samples taken a week apart are negative on fungal cultures.

Infected animals should be isolated and confined to one room to reduce the contamination in other parts of the house. Avoid grooming infected animals until treatment has finished. Contamination by hair and scale can be reduced by vacuuming contaminated rooms and pet bedding. Vacuum bags should be disposed of by burning.

Floors, worktops, litter trays, bowls and cages should be disinfected at least twice a week with 1:10 dilution of household bleach and allowed to dry before giving pets access again. Disposable cloths should be used for cleaning and all grooming equipment should be disinfected.

In people ringworm usually starts as reddish, scaly patch of skin. The areas may be itchy or dry and eventually, it may begin to resemble a ring or a series of rings. The skin lesions may be raised with bumpy borders around a scaly centre. If lesions develop in haired areas of skin then hair loss occurs, usually in a circular pattern. If you develop any skin lesions then you should see a doctor as human lesions will need to be treated appropriately.


Rabies is a very serious disease, killing more than 30,000 people around the world each year. There are few reported cases of recovery from confirmed infection. If you plan to take your pet abroad then they will need protection against this deadly disease.

Rabies is an invariably fatal viral infection that is extremely rare in the UK. The virus is passed from animal to animal via the saliva. There are no documented cases of disease beinig passed from one human to another.

The last case of classical rabies caught in the UK was in 1902 and since 1946 there have only been 22 deaths in the UK from rabies acquired abroad. Rabies is still a serious problem in most countries of the world with the exception of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Isles, Scandinavia (excluding Denmark), Iceland, the West Indies and Atlantic Islands.

In Europe and the United States, infection persists mainly in wild animals, for example foxes, bats, racoons and wolves, and humans are infected from contact with such animals. In contrast, in India and other Asian/African countries infection commonly occurs in dogs and cats associated with humans.

After an animal has been infected with the virus the signs of rabies usually develop within 2 to 8 weeks. Occasionally the development of signs may be delayed for months or years. The interval between infection and development of signs depends to some extent on the site of the bite. Signs tend to develop more rapidly following bites around the face.

The illness starts gradually with fever, headache and numbness around the wound. As the virus spreads to involve the brain, personality changes may develop. Subsequently the illness progresses to spasms, weakness and paralysis.

Two broad types of rabies are described: ‘furious’ rabies (in 8 out of 10 patients) where there is extreme agitation; and ‘dumb’ rabies where the individual is quiet, withdrawn and eventually unrousable. Animals with rabies show changes in behaviour. In most animals this results in aggressive behaviour and even shy animals will become bold and likely to attack.

Hydrophobia or intense fear of water is seen exclusively in rabies. Within a few days, paralysis develops and death occurs due to paralysis of the muscles of breathing.

Pets living in the UK are not at risk from rabies as they are unlikely ever to come into contact with the disease. Until recently importation of dogs and cats into the British Isles required a period of 6 months quarantine. Rabies vaccination of pets resident in the UK was not allowed.

The introduction of the Pet Travel Scheme resulted in relaxation of the requirement for quarantine for pets entering the UK via certain routes from specified destinations. In order for an animal to enter the UK it must have documentation to show that it has been vaccinated (and achieved an adequate level of protection) against rabies.

If you plan to take your pet abroad then you should discuss the risks with your vet and find out if additional vaccinations are required. It can take many months to complete appropriate documentation so make sure you plan well in advance.

There are few reports of anyone surviving rabies and animals suspected of having rabies are usually euthanazed. For this reason prevention of infection is essential. Vaccination is normally highly effective against rabies, however it may not completely eliminate the risk of contracting rabies in certain circumstances. Most pets in the UK have no natural immunity to rabies.

If you are travelling abroad with your pet then vaccination is required. A course of vaccinations is given and then your pet must have a blood test to confirm that they are protected.

If you are travelling abroad you should also consider your own health. If you are bitten by an animal abroad always seek local medical advice. Vaccination is an important means of prevention both before possible exposure and after exposure.

In countries were rabies occurs any domestic animal that has bitten a person is detained and observed for at least 10 days. If the animal has rabies it is likely to show signs within 4 to 7 days. Care should be taken to avoid contact with secretions (saliva, urine) of infected, or potentially infected, individuals. A person who is bitten by a rabid animal but given treatment with rabies vaccines can expect not to develop rabies.

Feline panleucopenia (Feline infectious enteritis)

Feline panleucopenia is a very serious disease of cats which, before vaccination, was commonly fatal. Even today, with good nursing care, between a quarter and two-thirds of all affected cats will die from the disease.

Panleucopenia is a serious disease in cats. It is caused by a virus very similar to the one that causes ‘parvo’ infections in dogs. However, there is no risk of the disease spreading from cats to dogs, from dogs to cats, or to people.

Affected cats pass the virus in their faeces and it can live for a long time outside the body. It is very difficult to kill the virus and most household disinfectants are not very good at doing so. Most cats are infected from the virus lying around in the environment, on bedding or food bowls previously used by infected cats. Kittens may also be infected inside the womb by the virus passing across the placenta from their mother, if she herself is infected while pregnant.

Panleucopenia causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Sometimes the disease progresses so quickly that a kitten may die before the owner notices any signs. In other animals, the vomiting starts before the diarrhoea and it may appear as if your kitten has swallowed something they shouldn’t. The disease is often initially mistaken for foreign bodies stuck in the gut or poisoning.

Kittens often go downhill very quickly because once they stop eating and drinking they become dehydrated very quickly. Older cats may show less severe signs and, if mother cats are infected whilst they are pregnant, they may only have a day or two of being off colour (which may go unnoticed). The kittens however, can be severely affected if they are infected inside the womb and may be born with deformities or brain damage. If the mother is infected in early pregnancy, miscarriage may occur.

The disease can be difficult to detect in early cases. Your vet will probably suspect the disease from the clinical signs and the fact that your cat has not been vaccinated. Blood tests may show that the numbers of white blood cells have dropped to dangerously low levels. It is possible to identify the virus in the diarrhoea from affected cats but this is rarely done unless a lot of cats are at risk, (for example if the affected cat comes from a cattery). Measuring the level of antibodies in your cat’s blood may also show that they have been infected.

There is no treatment that will get rid of the virus from your cat’s body – your cat must fight off the infection. However, without intensive nursing care, many cats will die from the effects of the disease (such as dehydration). Because your cat’s immunity will be low, she will be at risk from infection with bacteria and so antibiotics may be given. Most kittens are so sick that they have to be admitted to hospital for a week or so to receive intensive care if they are to recover.

If a cat recovers from panleucopenia they are highly unlikely to catch the disease again. However, in some cases the gut is so badly damaged by the infection that it can never recover properly. Cats may occasionally have problems absorbing all the nutrition from their food after a severe infection, and may not put on weight or have persistent diarrhoea.

There is a vaccine that can prevent your cat catching panleucopenia. This vaccination is included in the annual injections given by your vet. If their mother is fully vaccinated, kittens will get some immunity from her in the milk. This immunity begins to wear off around 6-12 weeks of age. Unfortunately, the vaccine is not normally given until a kitten is 9 weeks old, and the kitten is not fully protected until after the second vaccination at around 12 weeks.

There is a critical period where your kitten is very vulnerable to infection and, during this period, it is essential that your kitten does not come into contact with the virus. She should be kept in the house and away from other cats although if you have cats living in the house who are fully vaccinated and have had a recent booster vaccination, they should not pose too much of a risk.

Annual boosters are required to maintain protection and cats should have booster vaccinations before they get pregnant. Pregnant cats should not be given vaccines as this can cause defects in the kittens.

If you have had a kitten die from panleucopenia it is always very distressing. However, there may come a time when you want to get another cat – but will it be safe? The virus can live for a long time in the environment (up to a year) so it is probably safer to bring an adult, vaccinated cat into the house, rather than a new kitten.

Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)

Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) is probably the most important virus in cats. About one in three cats that come into contact with the virus develop a permanent infection which is almost always fatal. FeLV infection causes a wide range of symptoms and by weakening their immune defences it can also make cats more susceptible to other infections. The effects of the virus on the immune system are similar to those that occur in humans with AIDS, but FeLV only affects cats. It cannot affect humans or other animals, such as dogs.

The Feline Leukaemia virus is present in the bodily fluids of affected cats, most commonly their spit (saliva). The virus may be spread when cats groom each other, share the same food bowls or litter tray, sneeze on or bite another cat. Infection may also occur during sexual relations, across the placenta or in milk from a mother cat to her kittens.

About one in every 100 cats has a persistent infection in which the active virus is permanently present in its body. When several cats live under the same roof, there is more chance of the virus passing from one animal to another and more cats may be affected. The chances of being exposed to the virus rise with increasing age. However, it is young animals (under six months of age) that are most likely to be infected with the virus, and one in three of these will go on to develop disease.

In half the cats that die of FeLV the problem is a direct result of destruction of the white blood cells that are one of the main bodily defences against disease. This leaves the cat wide open to infection from any one of a range of other germs. The next most important problems are anaemia and cancer.

In the remaining cases the symptoms can include infertility, abortion, stillborn or very weak kittens, inflammation of the eyes, rapid weight loss, gut disease or nerve damage. An infected cat may appear healthy for several months but about eight out of ten cats are dead within three years of being infected by the virus.

FeLV must be suspected when your cat gets one illness after another. There is a simple blood test to show whether your cat has had contact with the virus. However, a positive result is not necessarily disastrous – it may just mean that your cat has been infected but is now immune to the virus. Similarly, a negative result is not an all clear – if the infection was recent your cat may not have reacted (produced antibodies) to the virus yet. Vets usually like to take two tests a few weeks apart to give more reliable information about your cat’s health.

There is no way to stop an infection once it has become established. Medical treatments may make your cat more comfortable or help treat other infections which may occur as a result of FeLV. FeLV vaccines can prevent disease in about of eight out of ten vaccinated cats exposed to the virus. The first in a series of vaccinations should be given to kittens at about nine weeks old and annual booster vaccinations are needed to maintain protection. If your cat has already been infected by the virus, it is too late to vaccinate it. FeLV vaccination may not be included in the routine vaccinations given by your vet. If you would like your cat to be protected against this disease, contact your vet for advice.

The vaccines for FeLV are very safe but a reaction, such as a lump forming at the injection site, may occur in rare cases. If your cat is the only one in the household and spends all of its time indoors, there is no risk of contact with the virus and vaccination is probably unnecessary. When there are several cats in the house, or when a new one is about to arrive, it is worth having them all tested for FeLV and those which are free of FeLV antibodies should be vaccinated in good time before the new cat is introduced.

If two blood tests taken a few weeks apart show antibodies to FeLV it is safe to say that your cat is infected with the virus. The infected cat must be kept away from other cats in your home (even if these are vaccinated) and should not be allowed outside. It may be necessary to re-home your cat to a new home where it cannot pass on the infection to other cats. Sadly, in some situations you may have to think about having the infected cat put to sleep (euthanazed).

Your new cat is unlikely to be at risk from infection lingering in your home. The virus does not live long outside the body. However to be safe all feeding bowls, litter trays, etc should be washed with hot soapy water and surfaces rinsed with a weak solution of bleach (about 5 tablespoons of bleach in a gallon of water) before introducing a new cat into the household.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

Hearing that your cat has Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is one of the worst bits of news you can get from your vet. The disease is almost always fatal, although treatments can make your cat’s remaining time more comfortable. If you have more than one cat in your home, taking sensible precautions and following your vet’s advice can help to reduce the risk that your other cats will be affected.

The disease is caused by a virus which is often found in healthy cats and usually causes no major health problems. However, in some cats it causes serious disease.

The disease has two different forms. The more common form is called ‘wet FIP’ because the blood vessels leak, fluid oozes out of the blood and the cat’s belly swells. This may also occur in the chest stopping the cat from breathing properly. The less common form of the disease is ‘dry FIP’ in which there is no build up of fluid but thick scar tissue develops on the cat’s internal organs. Except in rare cases, wet FIP is fatal within about five weeks of diagnosis. The dry form is equally deadly but affected cats may survive for a few months. The accompanying picture shows a cat with wet FIP.

The most vulnerable cats are those with weak defences against infectious diseases – kittens, elderly cats and those already suffering from some other condition. Some pedigree breeds such as Burmese appear to be affected more often than ordinary domestic ‘moggies’. Only about one in a hundred cats is likely to go down with the disease but the risk is much higher where several cats live together such as in a breeding cattery or rescue centre. Overcrowding and other stressful factors can increase the risk of disease developing.

In its early stages, FIP causes a variety of symptoms which can easily be mistaken for other diseases:

  • weight loss
  • lethargy
  • a dull coat
  • diarrhoea
  • poor appetite
  • fever.

Later on your cat’s eyes or nervous system may be damaged causing blindness and paralysis. In the so called ‘wet form’ of the disease fluid may build up in your cat’s tummy (causing swelling of the abdomen) or chest (causing difficulty in breathing).

There is no completely reliable blood test to show that your cat has FIP. Blood tests will just tell your vet that your cat has been infected with a virus which could be FIP. Other samples can be taken from fluid in the chest or abdomen. The only sure method of diagnosis is to take a tissue sample from one of the internal organs. This is often done after the cat has died to confirm that the cause of death really was FIP.

There is no evidence that the FIP virus can cause any disease in humans or other animals such as dogs.

Medicines such as steroids, vitamins and minerals are often given to make your cat feel better, but they do not tackle the disease itself. With careful treatment you may be able to keep your cat healthier for a little longer. Interferon (a powerful drug that suppresses immune reactions) may be helpful in some cats but is very expensive and generally does not provide much increase in life beyond the use of steroids).

In the future it may be possible to treat FIP with one of the anti-viral drugs that are being developed for use against human diseases but this is likely to be many years away.

The virus is spread in the cat’s saliva, phlegm and in its faeces (droppings). Some cats contract the virus but ae able to fight off the disease. These cats may continue to carry the virus and infect other cats. A cat with suspected FIP should be kept indoors in a separate room so as to avoid direct contact with all other cats. It should have its own feeding bowl and litter tray and these must be cleaned every few days.

The virus does not survive long outside the animal and it can be killed using a dilute solution of household bleach (about five tablespoons of bleach in a gallon of water). Use this to clean the feeding bowls, etc. and to wipe down room surfaces.

An FIP vaccine has been developed in the US but vets disagree on how effective it is in preventing symptoms of FIP and it is not yet available in the UK. Vaccinating healthy cats against other important virus diseases, such as Feline Leukaemia, keep their defences strong and may reduce the risk of them getting FIP.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

As its name suggests, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is closely related to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) responsible for causing AIDS in people. There is no cure for either disease and the virus causes the gradual destruction of the white blood cells needed to protect the body against infectious diseases. However, the two viruses will only survive inside normal host species – in other words, there is no risk of humans catching FIV from a cat, or vice versa.

FIV is found in the saliva and other bodily fluids of the cat and passes from cat to cat through bites. It occurs more frequently in un-neutered tomcats than in neutered males and is found most often in strays. Female cats are generally less likely to get involved in fights than males. However, a single bite may be enough to transmit infection and once it is there a cat is incapable of getting rid of the virus.

The virus will also pass between generations; about one in four kittens born to an infected female carries the virus. Infection may pass from mother to kittens during pregnancy (through the placenta) or as a result of the mother licking her offspring or biting the birth cord when they are born. Unlike HIV, there is no evidence that FIV is sexually transmitted.

In the first few days after it is infected your cat may show signs of ill health, such as a slight fever but it is unlikely that you would notice these minor changes. A cat that is already infected with the Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) may show more severe symptoms. However, they soon appear to get better and may then be perfectly healthy for months or even years.

Eventually they will become more susceptible to infection, with effects which vary considerably between different animals such as lethargy, swollen glands, a dull coat, fever, and weight loss. Affected cats often develop inflammation of the mouth, discharging and inflammed eyes, anaemia and diarrhoea.

Certain forms of cancer seem to be more common in FIV-infected cats and in a few cats the nervous system is affected, causing behavioural changes, convulsions, dementia etc.

FIV is more common in areas where there are large numbers of un-neutered male cats. Up to six in every 100 healthy cats carry the virus but it is much more common in ill cats – up to one in six ill cats have the virus. Because there is a long gap between infection and signs showing, the disease is most commonly seen in cats between six and ten years old.

Until a cat starts to suffer from a series of infections, as a result of its failing immune system, there is usually no reason to suspect that it is infected with FIV. A blood test has been developed to detect antibodies to the virus in apparently healthy animals. However, the test is not effective for several weeks after infection because infection is not detectable for that length of time. In a small proportion of infected cats, perhaps one in ten, antibodies will never appear. A more complicated test, which test for the virus itself can be used to check the results of the first test.

As there is no cure, your cat is eventually likely to die from an infection which would not be serious for a normal, healthy animal. Your vet may be able to give your cat some treatment to help counter these infections initially.

In the future it may be possible to treat FIV with the antiviral drugs being developed against the human disease. Trials have shown that the drugs provide short-term improvements in some cats but they are expensive and are not yet routinely available. A vaccine (Fel-O-Vax FIV from Fort Dodge) has recently been licensed in the United States but is not available in Europe.

Making sure that your cat’s vaccinations against other diseases are up to date you can reduce the risk of it catching these diseases.

Cats that live in small groups are less likely to fight and pass on the infection in a bite. However, if you have an infected cat who lives with other healthy cats you may decide that it is safer to keep them apart. Having an infected tom cat neutered may reduce the risk of him passing the disease to his housemates. Female cats with the virus should be spayed to prevent the virus being passed to their kittens.

If your cat dies as a result of FIV you may want to get a new cat. As long as all the other cats in the home are healthy there is no significant risk to the new arrival. The virus quickly dies once it is exposed to the air and the new cat is unlikely to be infected from using the same feed bowl or litter tray as its predecessor.

Chlamydia disease

Chlamydia is not particularly common in the average pet cat but can be a significant problem in cats in close contact. It is very easily spread from cat to cat. It is rarely fatal, but can be a real problem because the symptoms may be very difficult to clear up. Prevention is far better than cure – if your cat needs protection make sure she is fully protected by regular vaccinations.

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that causes conjunctivitis (sore, swollen eyes with a white discharge) and very occasional breathing problems. It most commonly causes disease in cats that live in groups.

Kittens are often protected by antibodies from their mother until around 8 weeks old. The bacterium is spread in the air and the kittens can be infected as their maternal protection wanes.

The signs of chlamydia infection are very obvious – usually there is redness and swelling of the eyelids. Excess tear production and coloured discharges from the eyes are common. Occasionally kittens are more severely affected and may have coughing, sneezing or difficulty breathing.

There is no evidence that disease can be spread from cats to man. When handling a sick cat you should always take careful hygiene precautions and pay particular care to hand washing. The disease is very contagious and can easily be spread from cat to cat.

Eye drops containing antibiotics can be effective in controlling the infection, but antibiotic tablets may be needed as well. Nursing care is important and eyes should be bathed regularly to remove secretions.

Most fit young cats will recover from chlamydia infection after a few weeks – although in a few cats that do get over the initial illness the bacteria may remain in their system. Cats that have recovered from disease may carry the organism for months or years and pass it on to other cats.

If your cat lives in close proximity to other cats then hygiene is very important to reduce the transmission of all diseases. Good ventilation is important and there should be air spaces between all cages to prevent droplets being carried in the air between cats.

If your cat is at risk from catching chlamydia then vaccination may be helpful. The vaccine is not given as a part of the routine course and you should discuss with your vet whether your cat needs to have the vaccination. Vaccination does not always prevent infection, but it usually stops severe disease developing. Vaccinated cats may still therefore carry infection and can pass it on to susceptible cats.

Cat scratch disease

Cat scratch disease is a disease of people carried by cats. Infected cats usually do not show any sign of illness but the disease can be passed to humans via a bite or scratch from the cat.

Cat scratch disease (CSD), also known as Bartonellosis, is caused by a bacteria carried in the blood of cats. CSD is a zoonotic disease, i.e. it is an infectious disease that can be transmitted from cats to other animals and to people.

The disease is well recognised in North America but is also seen in Europe and increasingly in the UK.

The disease is spread from cat to cat via the cat flea and then can be transmitted to humans via a bite or scratch. While fleas do not directly pass the infection to humans, controlling fleas in cats may decrease the risk of infection to humans; primarily as cats are less likely to become infected if fleas are not present.

Ticks are also a major transmitter of the disease. Ticks also carry other infectious diseases such as Lyme disease. People can be infected with both infections at the same time and, since symptoms of the two conditions may be similar, CSD may be missed when testing for Lyme disease.

Infected cats carry the bacteria in their blood. It appears that the disease can only be spread via infected blood but cat’s saliva can be contaminated with blood so that the disease can be transmitted by bites or licking. Cats may also contaminate their nails with infection whilst grooming and the infected blood may enter the human body through a cat scratch. Cats with fleas are more likely to scratch themselves than so in infected cats scratching increases the risk of the cat contaminating its nails with infected blood and passing the disease onto humans.

Kittens are more likely to carry the bacteria in their blood, and are therefore more likely to transmit the disease than are adult cats.

Cats usually do not show any symptoms but if you cat is sick with clinical signs suggestive of infection your vet can take a blood sample and send the sample to a laboratory for testing to confirm infection. There is no benefit in screening healthy cats for infection. There is no benefit in screening healthy cats for infection.

The bacteria can be relatively easily treated with antibiotics. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to treat cats when Bartonella infection has been found in their blood.

Regular flea control is the best way to avoid Bartonella infection in your cat. Stray cats under a year of age are most likely to be infected.

People may not realize that they have been infected with CSD. The first sign of infection may be a small blister or lump at the site of a wound. In most cases the most severe signs are swelling of the glands (lymph nodes) near the site of the scratch or bite 2-3 weeks after infection. Occasionally, an infected lymph node may form a tunnel through the skin and pus will drain out. Cat scratch disease is a common cause of chronic lymph node swelling in children.

Other symptoms that may be seen in some people include:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness, lethargy
  • Overall generalised discomfort
  • Headache

Generally, cat scratch disease is not serious and medical treatment is not usually needed. In AIDS patients and in other people who have suppressed immune systems, cat scratch disease is more serious, and treatment with antibiotics is recommended. For some reason most infections occur in autumn and winter.

Since the disease can only be spread through infected cat blood you should avoid contamination of wounds with cat saliva or blood.

  • Avoid “rough play” (or any activity that may result in biting or scratching) with cats, especially kittens. If you are bitten or scratched wash the affected area thoroughly.
  • Do not allow cats to lick your skin (especially if you have any open wounds).
  • Control fleas on your cat.
  • If you develop an infection (with pus and pronounced swelling) where you were scratched or bitten by a cat; or if you develop any symptoms, including fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue, contact your doctor for advice.
  • In some countries declawing has been proposed as a potential way to reduce the risk of transmission of infection; however there is no evidence to support this theory.

More recommendations can be found at the Center for Disease Control website:

Cat pox

If your cat is a keen hunter they may be at risk of catching cat pox from their prey. Cat pox is a viral infection that is also known as feline cow pox. Most cases recover without treatment but in a few cases the disease can be much more serious and veterinary advice should be sought. It can also infect humans which is important to be aware of.

Cat pox disease is also known as feline cow pox. It is caused by a virus present in the small rodent population such as voles and field mice. The virus is similar to the small pox virus and infection with this virus protects against small pox.

Despite its other name of cow pox, cats rarely catch cat pox from cattle. The virus is carried by rodents and cats are most commonly exposed during hunting so avid hunters are most at risk. The virus enters the cat through rodent bites or when a cat grooms an existing lesion after eating a rodent.

Most cases are seen in late summer when rodents are most numerous. Over the next week nodular skin sores that may become infected develop (often around the face and nose or limbs as this is where the cats are usually bitten by their vole prey). These crust and scab over and most cats remain well or have a runny nose or eye discharges. Around 10 days to several weeks after initial infection, numerous skin lesions that are ulcerated and crusted can develop over the body. These lesions are not usually itchy. Overall infection lasts six to eight weeks and most cats recover without and treatment.

However in a few cases, primarily cats that have a poor immune system, e.g. those with FIV or receiving steroids, the disease can spread to the lungs and cause pneumonia in which case fast, laboured and noisy breathing will be apparent as well as the cat being very unwell.

Your vet may be suspicious of a cat pox infection just by looking at the sores. However, these can be confused with other conditions like cat bites and ‘rodent’ (eosinophilic) ulcers. In most cases your vet will simply take a sample of the scabby tissue from the body for analysis. However tissue biopsies or blood samples can also be taken and sent to the laboratory. If your cat is unwell other tests will be required to identify any underlying cause of the immune system compromise. X-rays may be needed if there appears to be involvement of the lungs.

It is rare for people to become infected with cat pox (less than 100 cases have been diagnosed in people in the last 30 years) but it is possible, usually via cat scratches. However, as with all infectious diseases, good hygiene is important and if your cat is infected you should ensure that you wash your hands thoroughly after handing your cat.

People with compromised immune systems (e.g. the young and elderly, people on immunosuppressive treatments, pregnant women) and those with severe skin disease are probably most at risk and should avoid infected cats. If your cat is diagnosed with cat pox it should be handled with gloves and contact between infected material and any human skin wounds and eyes avoided.

If your cat is diagnosed with cat pox, it should be isolated from other cats. However cat to cat transmission only occurs rarely and usually is not associated with clinical signs.

There are no treatments that will control the virus. Happily most cats recover over about 6 weeks without any treatment. Antibiotics may be required if the skin lesions are open or infected. Some cats have to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent them scratching at the sores. teroids must not be given as these can worsen the disease.

Cat ‘flu’

Cat flu is very common in unvaccinated cats and is very easily spread from cat to cat. It is rarely fatal, except in young kittens, but can be a real problem because the symptoms may be very difficult to clear up. Prevention is far better than cure – so to protect your cat make sure she is fully protected by regular vaccinations.

Cat flu is usually caused by infection with a combination of one or more viruses (feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus) and some bacteria. If one of the viruses gets hold then your cat’s immune system may be so busy fighting it that other bugs (particularly bacteria) will also join in the attack.

Rather like human flu, cat flu is spread by droplets of moisture containing the virus, passing from cat to cat – through sneezing, direct contact or shared food bowls. Infected cats spread virus in the saliva and nasal discharges (snot).

The incubation period (the time for which a cat is infected and carries the disease before the symptoms develop) is up to 3 weeks. This means that it is quite possible for your cat to pick up the disease from another cat which seems healthy. People can spread the virus from cat to cat when handling them.

The signs of cat flu are very obvious and unlikely to be mistaken for anything else. In fact cat flu is often very similar to human flu starting with a high fever which may make your cat feel miserable and off her food, followed by the sneezing, coughing and sore eyes. Signs usually start to get better after about 7 days and, in most cases, your cat should be back to her old self in about 2-3 weeks. In some cats the disease can cause ulcers in the mouth making eating difficult.

No – the viruses that cause cat flu are quite different from those causing flu in humans. Your cat cannot catch the disease from you and you are not at risk of catching it whilst nursing her.

There is no treatment for flu in cats. Your cat will have to fight off the infection by herself and fortunately most, otherwise healthy cats, will do this within a few weeks. But cats, just like people, feel pretty miserable when they have the flu and plenty of nursing care is needed to help her get over it. Make sure she has somewhere comfortable and warm to lay and be sure she gets plenty of water or milk to drink. Although your cat may not want to eat for the first few days, you should try to tempt her to eat by offering tasty warm food to keep her strength up.

You should always have your cat checked by your vet, and antibiotics may be prescribed to treat bacterial infections. If your cat is very congested try putting her in a warm steamy environment (like the bathroom with a hot shower running) to ease her breathing.

Always keep in close contact with your vet and let him know immediately if your cat appears to take a turn for the worse. If you have other cats living in your house take particular care to keep them away from the sick cat and always wash your hands after handling her. However, because she will have been infectious before the symptoms developed, it is likely that your other cats will already have been exposed to the disease and may develop symptoms.

Most fit young cats will recover from flu after a few weeks – although in some cats that do get over the initial illness the problem never really goes away. These animals may be left with persistent problems such as runny noses. Sometimes these cats are on almost permanent medication to control their symptoms. The disease can be much more serious in young kittens, older cats and cats with other diseases, e.g. FeLV or FIV – these patients may need to be admitted to hospital for special treatment but, even so, may not survive.

The sensible precaution is to have your cat vaccinated to stop her getting flu in the first place. The flu vaccine that is given routinely as part of the annual vaccination programme will protect your cat against the common agents that cause serious disease. Vaccination does not always prevent infection, but it usually stops severe disease developing.