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Salmonella Poisoning in Cats

Picture of a Scottish Fold Cat

Almost anyone in the world has heard the word ‘Salmonella’ before, and that’s because it is among the most common bacteria that produce digestive infections. But what some of us might not realize is that it is also a zoonotic disease, which means that you can get it from cats or dogs.

Cats are Salmonella carriers, which is why their bites can be dangerous to humans. However, they can also get Salmonella themselves. In this post, we’ll look at the symptoms of Salmonella infections in cats, their causes, how they are diagnosed, and how they can be treated.

Signs that your cat is suffering from Salmonella poisoning

Salmonellosis is caused by a bacterium that has more than 2,000 serotypes, which means that the symptoms can vary depending on the pathogen and the health status of the animal infected.

In most cases, however, adult cats are those that get sick, especially if they have also gone through a stressful event such as a house move, cramped housing, the introduction of another cat in their environment, or even an accident.

So, due to the variety of serotypes that exist, the cat might show different clinical signs such as vomiting and diarrhea to abdominal pain and the presence of mucus in his or her feces. If the infection is more severe, pet parents can also notice weight loss, depression, a high fever, lethargy, and anorexia.

Cats that have a dangerous form of the infection will be weak and become dehydrated quickly due to diarrhea and vomiting. Some might have swollen lymph nodes, a rapid heart rate, bloody feces, or abort their kittens if the infection happened when the cat was pregnant.

When left untreated, Salmonellosis can lead to enteritis (inflammation of the intestines) or gastroenteritis (in case the stomach and the first part of the intestines are affected, too). Unfortunately, the majority of severe Salmonella poisoning cases in cats lead to the development of septicemia, a condition where the bacteria get into the animal’s blood, and the infection is spread to all organs. Septicemia can cause death in a record amount of time.

While some of the typical signs of gastroenteritis range from severe vomiting and diarrhea to dehydration and loss of appetite, a cat that has septicemia will have a significantly worsened health status, showing symptoms such as problems breathing, jaundice, uncontrollable drooling, very low blood pressure, pale gums, hypothermia or rapid breathing.

As you can see, a case of Salmonella poisoning in a cat is something that needs to be taken seriously. Therefore, if you suspect that your cat might be suffering from such an infection, time is of the essence, and you should take your feline friend to the vet as soon as you can.

What causes Salmonella poisoning in cats?

In most situations, this type of infection is caused by the consumption of raw meat. While it is true that cats are carnivores and that once in a while, it might actually be a good idea to feed your feline companion a piece of raw meat, the fact is that up to 30% of the meat that can be bought in any store is contaminated with Salmonella.

A cat can also get Salmonella if she spends a lot of time outdoors and entertains herself with hunting small rodents, for example. If she eats prey like this, the cat is likely to get infected as mice and rats are often Salmonella carriers (and other dangerous pathogens, too).

Geriatric cats and kittens are particularly sensitive to this infection because both of these categories’ immune system isn’t in good shape. In kittens, it is not yet fully developed while in senior cats it is often affected by other chronic conditions.

How is a Salmonella infection diagnosed?

There are several ways in which this type of medical condition is diagnosed. The vet might perform a biochemical profile, a complete blood count, a fecal floatation, a fecal or blood culture, or even perform various imaging tests such as an ultrasound or an X-ray.

Because the treatment needs to be administered as fast as possible, the vet often doesn’t have enough time to select the appropriate therapy. That is why in many cases, a broad-spectrum antibiotic will be used, along with plenty of fluid therapy to counterbalance the dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea.

There will be some blood and fecal samples collected and sent to the lab, but by the time the results come in, the cat might have already begun the recovery process thanks to the antibiotic therapy.

Treatment

As we have previously mentioned, most cats that have Salmonella poisoning respond well to a treatment involving a broad-spectrum antibiotic. If the cat is significantly dehydrated, she will have to remain at the clinic so that electrolyte and fluid therapy are administered several times throughout the day.

In cats that have developed gastroenteritis, pain medication might have to be administered, too, since the stomach and the intestines are irritated and could risk causing continuous vomiting and diarrhea.

If the cat is taken in due time to the veterinary clinic, he or she has a very good chance of recovering. An important thing to keep in mind is that in this situation, as is the case with any digestive infection, you shouldn’t feed your cat for at least 48 hours.

The digestive tract takes some time to recover properly, so it would be ideal to leave the cat at the veterinary hospital so that she is fed intravenously or subcutaneously.

Prevention

Technically, you should avoid feeding your cat raw meat. However, the fact is that raw meat has a series of nutrients that your feline friend can’t get from any commercial cat food brand out there, and it doesn’t contain any additives or artificial colors, either. But you could simply boil the meat and eliminate any contaminant in this way, at least.

There is no way of controlling outdoor cats from being infected with Salmonella, and that’s because they come in contact with a number of other cats and other small animals that might be carriers.

If you have several cats in your household and one of them is diagnosed with Salmonella poisoning, you should disinfect your home as best as possible and thoroughly wash all food and water bowls. Keep the cats separated from each other until the sick one fully recovers.

Since Salmonellosis is a zoonotic disease, be careful when handling your cat and avoid getting bitten. Most cats have a number of germs in their mouths that can cause significant bacterial complications on an otherwise superficial injury.

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