Cat survives plague

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By Carol A. Clark

“He’s doing fine and is basically all well,” said Veterinarian Dan Dessauer of The Animal Clinic of Los Alamos. “If you catch it early, put the animal in isolation and start a treatment of antibiotics, it’s something that’s not too difficult to cure.”

The cat was a little more than one year old, he said, adding that no one at the animal clinic was infected by the cat.

“Plague bacteria can’t penetrate unbroken skin; it would take a bite or scratch from the animal or a bite from the infected flea,” Dessauer said.

Plague is a bacterial disease of rodents that is generally transmitted to humans through bites from infected fleas, said New Mexico Public Health Veterinarian Paul Ettestad during an interview Wednesday afternoon. It also can be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals such as rodents, rabbits, squirrels and pets, he said.

The three types of plague are bubonic, the most common and caused by bacteria infecting the lymph system, septicemic in which the bacteria enters the blood stream and pneumonic, which occurs when plague bacteria infect the lungs, causing pneumonia.

Ettestad described pneumonic plague as the more dangerous because an infected animal’s sneezing and coughing can more easily infect humans.

There have been a number of pets infected with plague during the last several years brought in and treated at the clinic, Dessauer said, adding that as far as he is aware, none have died.

“For some reason, plague is endemic to the pinon-juniper type of environment so New Mexico is a common place for it to occur,” he said.

Dessauer also mentioned that plague is not something he usually sees this time of year, saying it’s a more common occurrence in the summer months in this area.

He described the typical symptoms exhibited by a plague-ridden cat or dog are fever and lethargy.

Cats are more susceptible than dogs in contacting plague but dogs do sometimes come down with it, Dessauer said.

“That’s just one of the risks of being an outdoor cat,” he said. “The upside is cats keep the number of rodents down but the downside is when they catch an infected rodent.”

To help keep from creating unwanted habitats for rodents, Dessauer suggests moving woodpiles and debris away from homes.

He also mentioned applying anti-flea remedies on the back of pets’ necks such as Frontline, which are made to keep fleas at bay for up to a month.

Frontline is available at the Animal Clinic of Los Alamos at 127-B Eastgate Drive. For information go to www.aclapets.com or call 662-6622.