image of cat hunting a mouse

Tularemia, Plague, Rabies, & Hanta Virus

Question:
Our formerly feral five-year-old cat is now a tamed cuddler, purrer, and a chatterer. Her favorite activity is catching baby rabbits, baby squirrels, lizards, mice and birds. She is proud to bring these finds in, which get tossed out immediately. Could she contract Hantavirus or other diseases from hunting these wild animals?

Dr. Nichol:
Your feline wild child is in predator heaven but you are right to be concerned. Rodents, lizards, and rabbits are in generous supply, birds not so much. Then there’s infectious disease.

A recent update from State Veterinarian Dr. Ralph Zimmerman reminded us of the dangers of tularemia infection from wild rodents. Ticks and deer flies spread this bacteria but handling dead rabbits or rodents, like your cat’s hunting trophies, could also put your health at risk.

When dogs and cats kill helpless creatures they can get tularemia from their prey as well as from the ticks that are feeding on them. Symptoms in pets include lethargy, poor appetite, a draining abscess, eye discharge, oral ulcers, jaundice (mouth and whites of the eyes), and fever. A monthly spot-on tick preventative from your veterinarian can also eliminate fleas (think plague). The Nichol pets get treated every month like clockwork.

The State Veterinarian’s report added that “Tularemia symptoms in people may include sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscle aches and joint pain. Other symptoms: swollen and painful lymph glands, especially where the bacteria first gained entry into the body.”

Protect your pets but don’t forget their favorite person. You may be thinking happy thoughts about your next salad while gardening but the rodents who scurry off when you show up to pull weeds may not have your best interests at heart. Wear thick gloves and use a long handled shovel to dispose of their carcasses in a sealed trash bag.

Hanta virus would be an unlikely disease for your cat to deliver to your door. It’s rummaging around in a shed and stirring up rodent stool and dried urine that puts people in jeopardy. And don’t forget rabies. Pet vaccinations are effective for 3 years nowadays. Preventive veterinary medicine is good for everybody.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.