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What is Anthrax?

Symptoms will develop slowly, but if left untreated, the bacteria will spread throughout the body and cause organ failure. The quicker you can get your cat treatment for anthrax, the more likely he is to recover, so take your pet to a veterinarian if you spot any symptoms.

Anthrax is a disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis that can affect many different types of animals, including cats. The infection can take on a number of different forms, including skin, intestinal, and pneumonic types. The type of infection your cat develops will depend on how he was exposed to the bacteria. For example, if your cat inhaled large amounts of the bacteria’s spores, it would be pneumonic, but if he ingested it, the intestinal form would develop. Cats most commonly contract anthrax  in the intestinal form after consuming infected meat.

Symptoms of Anthrax in Cats

Symptoms can begin to appear for up to two weeks after the cat has been exposed to anthrax. The first symptom may be swollen lymph nodes, which may not be obvious to the cat owner, but soon after other symptoms will appear depending on the type of infection.

Symptoms of a skin form of anthrax include:

  • Skin inflammation
  • Black pustules

Symptoms of the intestinal form of anthrax include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth and throat inflammation
  • Bleeding with the mouth and throat

Symptoms of the pneumonic form of anthrax include:

  • Difficulty breathing

Causes of Anthrax in Cats

Every warm-blooded animal can be infected with anthrax, and cats are no exception. Cats become infected with anthrax after being exposed to Bacillus anthracis, a bacterial microorganism. There are a number of ways that animals can be exposed to anthrax, however, cats are commonly infected after eating contaminated meat, which causes the intestinal form of anthrax, or making contact with bodily fluids of infected animals, which causes the skin form of anthrax. The pneumonic form of anthrax is caused by the inhalation of large amounts of the spores of the bacteria.

Diagnosis of Anthrax in Cats

A physical examination will allow the vet to see any swollen lymph nodes, skin irritation, and inflammation in the mouth and throat. However, it can be very difficult to diagnose anthrax because many other illnesses can cause similar symptoms. Because of this, it’s important to communicate clearly with your vet about what symptoms you have observed, when they began, and whether your cat has been exposed to anything unusual. If you believe your cat was exposed to an infected animal or contaminated meat, it’s imperative you bring it up during the consultation. 

The vet will most likely run a complete blood count test to look for elevated levels of white blood cells, which indicate there is an infection in the body. Blood samples can also be examined underneath a microscope to look for the rod-shaped anthrax bacteria. 

Other tests that may be requested to confirm the diagnosis include a fluorescent antibody exam and lymph node biopsy, although the vet may not require these if the presence of anthrax is clear just from the blood sample. 

Treatment of Anthrax in Cats

Once the vet is confident in an anthrax diagnosis, he will begin to inform you about the treatment plan. The earlier the treatment begins, the better your cat’s chances are of fully recovering from the infection, which is why it’s so important to bring him to a vet the moment you notice symptoms.

Luckily, Bacillus anthracis is highly susceptible to antibiotics. Anthrax infections are usually treated with penicillin, ampicillin, or enrofloxacin, which can be administered for up to 60 days to ensure the infection is completely out of your cat’s system.

In some cases, the vet may recommend hospitalizing the cat for a more vigorous treatment. Fluids and antibiotics will be administered intravenously to stabilize your cat’s condition while he is being closely watched by medical professionals. 

Recovery of Anthrax in Cats

Before you leave the vet, discuss how you should disinfect your cat’s bedding, toys, and any other items he may have come into contact with while infected. The spores of this type of bacteria can be highly resistant to regular household cleaners, so it’s important to ask the professionals how you should handle this task. The vet should also be able to give you advice on how to disinfect the cat’s fur as well.

Humans can become infected if they make contact with an infected animal’s bodily fluid or tissue. As you handle your cat and disinfect his belongings, make sure you protect yourself by wearing gloves, goggles, and masks. 

The earlier you get your cat to a vet for treatment, the more likely he is to fully recover. After you have administered all of the antibiotics, bring your cat in for a follow-up visit with the veterinarian so he can retest for anthrax.