Can Your Cat Give You the Plague?

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In the United States, there are an average of seven human cases per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 80 percent of those cases are the bubonic form of the disease.

The disease is most common in rural, Western areas, especially in parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon. In those places, the bacteria can circulate in prairie dogs, ground squirrels, chipmunks, wood rats, and other animals.

Globally, 1,000 to 2,000 cases are reported each year, according to the C.D.C.

Cats can be infected when they ingest infected rodents or are bitten by the fleas associated with these rodents. Since 1977, 407 cats in New Mexico have been diagnosed with the plague, Dr. Phipps said. “Pets that hunt are one of the highest risk groups,” she added. “Cats are very susceptible to plague, and it can be fatal to them.”

As is the case in humans, infected cats can make a full recovery if the disease is caught early. But because the symptoms resemble those of many other illnesses, diagnosis can be difficult. Infected cats may develop a fever, become lethargic and lose their appetites. Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck area, are also common.

Dogs can also be infected, but they do not tend to become as sick as cats do.

“It’s a pretty minimal risk that you will get plague from your cat,” Dr. Lathrop said.

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