Regional Health Problems and Concerns for Cats in the Central Oregon Region

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Encounters with Wildlife

Infectious Diseases

Feline ImFeline Immunodeficiency Virusmunodeficiency Virus:

     FIV is prevalent to a similar extent as FeLV in both urban and rural cats in Central Oregon. The disease is most often associated with free-roaming intact male cats that are active in breeding and fighting. Clinical signs are those of secondary opportunistic infections that occur due to immunodeficiency as the name implies. There is no vaccine at this time, so neutering and keeping companion cats from contact with free-roaming carriers are our best prevention methods. Keeping cats inside at night, not leaving food outside to attract feral cats, and eliminating feral cat populations are helpful in achieving this goal. Testing for FIV is often combined with FeLV when introducing a new cat to a household.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis:

    FIP is prevalent in both urban and rural populations in Central Oregon cats and is often an opportunistic secondary disease that is seen in FeLV and/or FIV infected cats.  It has many presentations and can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages.  The disease is ultimately fatal, but may be present in apparently healthy carriers for quite some time. Young cats, 6 months to 2 years, are most susceptible, particularly Asian breeds in multi-cat situations such as catteries and shelters .  The biology of the disease is very complex and developing clinical signs of disease is dependent upon mutation of an otherwise innocuous Feline Coronavirus within the host and the ability of the immune system of the host to fight it off. Vaccination is available but prevents accurate detection of the disease, so is recommended in very limited situations. Accurately diagnosing  FIP is clinically difficult in its early stages, and even sometimes with overt disease.  This is one disease that we have seen spread on multiple occasions from cats adopted from animal shelter/rescue organizations to cats already in a household, so pre-introduction isolation, evaluation and testing is advised.

Internal Parasites

Roundworms:

    Roundworms are seen mostly in kittens as a result of nursing infected queens.  Routine kitten worming protocols are very effective in eliminating the problem.  Adult cats that show poor condition and GI signs (diarrhea) should be tested.  Transmission is cat to cat.

 Tapeworms:  Tapeworms are seen in cats that are active hunters who consume rodents.  In other areas, fleas can also transmit tapeworms to cats.  Tapeworm segments (proglottids) are seen in live or dried form attached to the hair around the cat’s backside or directly on fresh feces.  They appear as small grains of rice (dried) or small flatworms (live) that are actually egg packets that must be consumed by a mouse or flea to complete the cycle.  No cat to cat, cat to dog or cat to human is possible.

Cat-fight Trauma / Abscess

 Territorial disputes and breeding conflicts can result in cat-fights and sometimes very serious injury.  Cat’s claws and teeth are very sharp and small enough to cause a puncture wound that seals over quickly, seeding bacteria under the skin.  The initial bite or claw puncture is initially painful, but the pain resolves in a couple of days only to return in seven to ten days as the abscess develops. In some areas of the body, an abscess will come to a head, open and drain on its own.  In other areas, the abscess will spread slowly under the skin until a vast area is involved before it breaks out, if at all.  Around the tailhead abscesses can dissect into the abdominal cavity to cause peritonitis.  During abscess formation cats usually seek solitude, develop a high fever and poor appetite, and are painful to touch of the affected area.  Treatment involves letting the abscess “ripen” so that it can be drained, flushed with antiseptic and antibiotics, initially by injection, followed by oral, but only after the abscess is opened and drained.  Premature antibiotic treatment can result in the abscess smoldering, spreading, and reoccurring once antibiotics are discontinued.  Occasionally, if we know a cat has been in a fight so recently that abscess formation is not possible, we can try a vigorous course of antibiotics to prevent abscess formation altogether.


Sunburn:  Cats with white fur and pink skin are particularly prone to sunburn of their nose, ears, lips, and other areas of their face, which then puts them at risk for sunburn related skin cancers.  The easiest way to prevent this is to limit exposure to intense sunlight for prolonged time periods.  Luckily, cats are usually less active during hot weather and seek shade to sleep, so confinement and avoidance is not difficult.

Frostbite/Hypothermia:

     Winter temperatures get low enough in Central Oregon to put cats at risk of frostbite and hypothermia.  Toes, ears, nostrils and lips can be affected by frostbite when the temperature drops into single digits, particularly if wind chill is present and drops the temperature sub-zero.  Hypothermia is also a threat to cats that cannot find shelter that insulates and protects them from wind and moisture.  Young kittens, under-nourished individuals, and old cats are particularly at risk for both of these conditions.  Drinking- water sources must be provided that do not freeze for cats that spend any significant amount of time outdoors during the winter.

Fanbelt/engine compartment trauma:

    Outdoor cats seek warm places to sleep during cold nights and, unfortunately, warm engine compartments are all too inviting. It only takes a split second for a cat to be struck by moving engine parts or get caught in rotating belts, resulting in very serious injuries.  Opening the hood prior to starting a vehicle on cold mornings is the best way to assure that this does not happen.

Cheatgrass:

     Cats can get cheat grass awns stuck in their fur, in their ears, and under their eyelids causing mats, painful irritation, penetrating wounds, and infection.  Once mats occur, the awns will not be visible until the mat is removed. Any swelling, closure or discharge from the eyelids should be rapidly and thoroughly evaluated to avoid serious damage to the eye from this or any other trauma.

Fleas:

    Cats that roam outside and get into rodent dens or deer beds can be found with fleas in Central Oregon, but otherwise, fleas are rare here.  Control with topical medication can be used if needed.

Ticks:

    As with fleas, ticks are rare and are generally found on cats that spend time in areas frequented by wildlife.  Control is as for fleas with the same topical med.

Cuterebra larvae:

    The larval “cattle grub” will sometimes find cats as an abnormal host and be found as a mass under the skin with a small hole at one end. Careful surgical removal is advised. This is the same parasite as described affecting dogs.  

   Cheyletiella mites:

    This nearly microscopic “walking dandruff” mite is the cause of severe itchiness and focal skin lesions of cats. They are detected by microscopic examination of skin scrapes of lesions.  Occasionally these mites cause similar lesions on humans who acquire the infestation from an affected cat.  They are effectively treated with oral medication.  Cats can sometimes be asymptomatic carriers but still transmit the disease to other cats or people.  

   Ear mites:

    This common ear parasite is seen frequently in Central Oregon cats and rarely in dogs.  They are very contagious from cat to cat, less so cat to dog, and can survive in the environment for transmission.  Cats with ear mites will scratch at their ears, causing lesions at the base of the ear, and the ear will contain a dark “coffee-ground” appearing accumulation of debris.  Once mites have been identified they are most effectively treated with two or three doses of oral medication administered at two week intervals.  It is very important to treat all of the cats in the household at the same time to prevent ongoing re-infection.  

Ringworm:

    Ringworm is a very common fungal skin infection of cats and dogs that is also transmissible to people. Infection is most common in young animals and is generally seen as a round hairless, scaly lesion on the head, neck or back that may or may not be itchy.  Cats can be asymptomatic carriers and transmit the infection to people despite the lack of skin lesions.  The disease is most severe in cats that have weak immune systems, for whatever reason, and is generally self-limiting in healthy cats, resolving without treatment in six to eight weeks.  Many times, though, we treat cases topically, orally or both to prevent  spread to other members of the household.

Predators:  Coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and large birds of prey, (eagles, Great Horned Owls) are serious hazards for domestic cats in Central Oregon, even in some residential areas within city limits. Young cats are especially vulnerable as they are often oblivious to danger. Keeping cats indoors, particularly at night, and assuring availability of a safe haven where the cat can hide in during the day are good protective measures for all cats.

Feline Leukemia:  FeLV is prevalent in Central Oregon and affects both urban and rural cat populations. The disease is manifested in many forms: abortion and stillbirths in infected pregnant queens, fading kittens, immunodeficiency and opportunistic secondary infections, and cancer. The disease is spread by saliva (grooming, playing, fighting, sharing water bowls), contact with infected blood (fighting), and through the placenta during pregnancy. The disease is readily prevented with vaccination and avoiding contact.