California State Health Department Issues Warning About Plague in Pet Cats


SACRAMENTO Following recent reports of four cases of plague in pet cats in Kern and Placer counties, Interim State Health Officer Dr. Howard Backer urged Californians to keep their cats away from wild rodents and to seek veterinary care if their cat becomes sick with symptoms of the disease. To date in 2005, plague activity has been detected in animals in 11 California counties: Alpine, Butte, Glenn, Kern, Lassen, Modoc, Monterey, Nevada, Placer, Plumas and Sierra.

"People who handle or have close contact with an infected cat risk getting plague," Backer said. "The most important step pet owners can take to protect their cats and themselves from getting plague is to prevent their cats from hunting wild rodents."

Three of the cats were reported in Kern County and one in Placer County. One of the Kern County cats survived and the others were euthanatized.

Plague is a highly infectious bacterial disease that is spread by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas. Cats most commonly acquire plague through hunting and consuming infected wild rodents. Humans and cats can also get plague from the bites of infectious rodent fleas.

Since 1977, there have been 23 human plague cases associated with contact with an infected cat in the western United States, including four in California. Two of the Californians died, including an El Dorado County resident in 1980 and a Kern County resident in 1984. Individuals who have had contact with a cat diagnosed with plague should contact their healthcare provider.

State and local health officials regularly monitor for plague activity. In California, plague-infected animals are most likely to be found in the foothills, mountains and along the coast.

In humans, early symptoms of plague include fever, chills, depression and painful swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck.

Early symptoms of plague in cats include high fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes in the neck and breathing difficulty. Cats that develop these symptoms should be taken to a veterinarian for examination and treatment. Plague is curable in its early stages with prompt diagnosis and proper treatment, but may be fatal if not treated.

Cat owners can adopt several simple actions to reduce the chance of their cat getting plague:

-- Prevent your cat from hunting wild rodents. The American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Feline Practitioners, American Animal Hospital Association and others strongly encourage owners to keep all cats indoors as much as possible. If allowed outdoors, cats should be kept within a confined area, on a leash or closely supervised to prevent hunting.

-- Leave cats at home or a boarding facility when traveling to areas where plague occurs.

See your veterinarian if your cat develops a fever, swollen lymph nodes or respiratory difficulty.

-- Discuss with your veterinarian appropriate strategies for regular flea control.

For more information about plaguego to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)s Web site at



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