Campylobacteriosis in Cats – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Campylobacteriosis in cats

Campylobacteriosis is an infection caused by the Campylobacter jejuni bacterium. It is associated with enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine), resulting in diarrhea. Kittens, particularly those under six months of age are most susceptible to infection due to their immature immune systems. The disease is zoonotic, meaning that it can be passed from cat to human. It is one of the leading causes of diarrhea in people. Cats only represent a small proportion of reservoirs of infection to people, undercooked meat is the most common mode of infection in humans. Young children being most vulnerable to infection.

Many cats can carry the bacteria without showing any outward signs of infection, however, they can still shed the bacteria in their feces. Due to their immature immune systems, kittens are more susceptible to developing symptoms when infected. Pound cats, stressed cats, pregnant queens, strays, and cats kept in large numbers are also at greater risk.

How is campylobacteriosis transmitted?

Infection occurs via direct contact with infected animals, contact with contaminated feces, raw meat, especially chicken, water and fomites (inanimate objects such as food bowls, litter trays, door handles). The incubation period is between 2-5 days.

Asymptomatic carriers can transmit the bacteria in their feces for long periods of time, infecting others.

The severity of campylobacteriosis depends on the age of the cat and the number of bacteria ingested along with external factors such as levels of stress and overall health of the cat.

What are the symptoms of campylobacteriosis?

Most cats infected will have no symptoms or display only mild sickness. Young kittens under six months of age have more severe symptoms than older cats. The most common symptom is diarrhea, this may be watery and contain mucus and/or blood.

Other symptoms may include:

Symptoms are usually present for 3-7 days. However, kittens with diarrhea need to be seen by a veterinarian urgently as they are at risk of dehydration, which can quickly kill a small kitten.

Diagnosing campylobacteriosis

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat and obtain a history from you. Diagnosis is based on clinical examination along with diagnostic tests to detect the presence of the bacterium in the feces (fecal culture).

How is it treated?

  • Antibiotics (most commonly erythromycin) may be prescribed to treat the infection. There are a number of types of antibiotics which can be prescribed.
  • Fluids may be prescribed to treat dehydration due to diarrhea.
  • A bland diet of boiled chicken breast may be recommended while your cat recuperates.
  • An infected cat should be isolated from other household cats to reduce the chances of transmission.

Reducing transmission of Campylobacter in cats and humans:

While cats do have the potential to transmit the disease to humans, this is via the fecal-oral route only. Meaning humans acquire the disease via infected feces. You can not catch the disease just from petting or stroking your cat. Having said that, it is ALWAYS good practice to wash your hands frequently with hot soapy water, especially after handling cats. It is also a good idea (to avoid exposure to many other infections) to get in the habit of NOT putting your fingers in your mouth (nail biting, chewing, etc), this is a common mode of infection of many pathogens.

  • Any cat with diarrhea should be seen by a veterinarian to determine the cause
  • Scoop out litter trays daily, wear rubber gloves when cleaning trays. Wash hands after removing rubber gloves.
  • Disinfect litter trays and surrounding area at least once a week.
  • The most common route of infection in people is undercooked meat. Make sure all meat is properly cooked through using a meat thermometer.
  • Avoid drinking unpasteurised milk.
  • Wash and disinfect food and water bowls regularly. Change water at least once a day.
  • Keep litter trays and food bowls away from each other.

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