Escherichia coli at a glance
About: Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterial infection of the gastrointestinal tract, uterus and urinary tract affecting many species of animal including cats. Most of the time the bacteria reside in the GI tract without incident.
Transmission: Cats become infected when the bacteria find their way from one part of the body to another, for example, urinary tract infections, or when a cat consumes food containing a pathogenic (disease-causing) strain of the bacteria.
Symptoms: If the gastrointestinal tract is affected, vomiting, diarrhea, which may be blood tinged. If the uterus is affected, fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, and in some cases discharge from the vagina.
Treatment: E. coli is treated with antibiotics to kill the bacteria as well as supportive care including fluids and nutritional support.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacteria which usually resides in the gastrointestinal tract of mammals (including cats and humans) without incident. There are hundreds of strains of E. Coli, most of which are harmless, however, some strains are pathogenic, resulting in sickness.
There are typically two modes of infection:
1) When normal gastrointestinal bacteria find their way to other parts of the body, such as with urinary tract infections.
2) When a cat consumes a pathogenic strain of E. Coli.
The average incubation period is 3-6 days. Symptoms of E. Coli depend on the location and strain of the bacteria. The current health status of your cat can also play a role in the development of E. Coli with certain conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s syndrome) making them more prone to urinary tract infection.
Cats who undergo several heat cycles without pregnancy are at greater risk of developing pyometra (infection of the uterus).
Pathogenic E. Coli in the gastrointestinal tract can result in vomiting and diarrhea. Infection is usually acquired via the consumption of infected meat or water.
Symptoms of E. Coli vary depending on the location of the infection but may include:
- Diarrhea, which may be blood tinged
Coli in the uterus of intact female cats can result in pyometra. Infection may be open or closed. With open pyometra, the cervix is open, allowing pus to drain out of the vagina. When the cervix is closed, bacteria become trapped in the vagina, making it harder to diagnose, although she may present with a distended abdomen. It is quite easy for E. Coli around the anus to ascend into in the urinary tract, especially in female cats.
Typical symptoms of infection include:
- Frequent urination (passing only a small amount)
- Blood in the urine
- Pain urinating
- Frequent genital licking
Newborn kittens can become infected with E. Coli via the mother’s milk, this usually happens within the first two weeks of life. This is known as colibacillosis. Other contributing factors include unclean environment, maternal health, crowded conditions.
As we have noted, symptoms vary depending on where the infection is located, but along with individual symptoms, you may also notice your cat displays the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you, including how long your cat has been sick and other symptoms you have noticed. As E. coli can cause infection in many parts of the body, presenting symptoms will give your vet a clue as to what the problem is.
- Baseline tests including biochemical profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis.
- Bacterial culture and sensitivity to test for the presence of bacteria. This may involve taking a sample of feces, blood, urine (urinalysis), pus from the vagina. Other types of bacteria can also cause infection, so identifying the particular type (E. Coli, Salmonella etc), is important. Once identified, your veterinarian may decide to run an antibiotic sensitivity test, this involves growing the bacteria in a culture dish with a growth medium, and expose it to several types of antibiotics to determine which one the bacteria is most sensitive to.
- Ultrasound to diagnose closed pyometra.
Newborn kittens are particularly at risk and aggressive treatment is necessary if they are to survive.
- Pyometra-Ovariohysterectomy (spay) for a female cat.
- Urinary tract infection- Diligent care with litterbox maintenance to make sure it is clean at all times. Holding onto the urine along with inadequate water consumption are both contributing factors. Increase water consumption to dilute the urine. This may include feeding your cat a wet diet (which has a higher water content than dry food) and/or encouraging your cat to drink more water.
Ecoli can survive in the environment for up to 28 days. The following disinfectants are effective.
- Bleach (sodium hypochlorite, calcium hypochlorite or sodium dichloroisocyanurate)
- F10-Benzalkonium chloride and polyhexanide
- TriGene-Didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride, benzalkonium chloride, polyhexanide (biguanide)
- Trifectant or Virkon-Potassium peroxymonosulfate
- Ethanol 70%