Sunday 7 June 2009

Cat Catches Bubonic Plague

When a cat catches the bubonic plague in the Truckee area of Nevada as reported by the County Health Department last Friday I hope that this time cats generally are not going to be unjustly persecuted.

When the famous bubonic plague (“black death” as it was called because black patches formed on the skin) hit London (from where I write this) in 1665 cats were slaughtered as it was thought they carried the disease. In August of 1665 in London, 31159 people died of the plague and in all 15% of the population of London died because of it.

There were probably a large number of feral cats in those days. There still are, in fact. We are wiser these days (are we?) and now know that it is flea infested rats and rodents that carry the disease. In the modern era, bubonic plague still occurs where rats are present in large numbers or are not successfully controlled.

In the USA where there are 10-15 cases a year (src: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)) and these usually occur at some hot spots:

  • Northern New Mexico
  • Northern Arizona and southern Colorado
  • California
  • Southern Oregon
  • Far western Nevada.

Cats are susceptible to harbouring fleas because of their fur. Fleas will jump onto a cat (from the ground) having jumped off an infected rat or rodent. It is our beholden duty to routinely check for fleas on our cats and comb them out. This for me is the preferred way as it is benign and safe. Flea powders I think are dangerous. In fact any sprays (directly onto the coat can cause problems as cats will lick it off and ingest it) are unsafe. This is just my personal view. If the flea infestation is bad a chemical dropper like Frontline is invariably successful but even that should be administered with caution. These chemicals are rather potent so lets think of the cat.

When a cat catches bubonic plague it will usually be the fault of the local health department for failing to control rat populations not the fault of the innocent messenger, the cat, who should have been treated by us. In short it comes down to us again. Nearly all “problems” to do with cats originate with us.

Further reading about flea control:

From Cat Catches Bubonic Plague to Pictures of Cats org

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