Cats who hunt lizards and skinks are at risk of several zoonotic diseases as a consequence of bacteria or parasites the prey carry. Animals cats typically hunt include birds, rats, mice, rabbits, snakes, lizards and skinks, the latter two are the focus of this article.
Diseases and parasites cats can catch from hunting lizards and skinks
Liver flukes Opisthorchis felineus (cat liver fluke), O. viverrini (Southeast Asian liver fluke) and Platynosomum fastosum (cat liver fluke) are parasitic organisms which live in the gall bladder, biliary ducts and (less frequently) pancreatic ducts. Adult flukes deposit mature eggs in the feces, which pass out of the body of the host and into the environment. Snails ingest the eggs which undergo three development stages (sporocysts, rediae and cercariae), lizards or skinks become intermediate hosts when they ingest an infected snail, and cats become the final host when they ingest an infected lizard or skink.
Opisthorchis felineus-Southern, central and eastern Europe, the southern part of Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, India, Japan, Hawaii, Florida and Central America.
O. viverrini – Northeast Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and central and southern Vietnam.
Platynosomum fastosum – Tropical and subtropical regions.
Cats with a low parasite burden will be asymptomatic; symptomatic cats may display the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Mucoid diarrhea
- Progressive lethargy
- Abdominal distention
Treatment may be in the hospital or as an outpatient. Severely ill cats will require hospitalisation and supportive care such as fluid therapy, prednisolone to reduce fluke-associated inflammation and vitamin D to promote healing.
Praziquantel to kill the parasitic flukes. Eggs can continue to pass via the feces for up to two months after treatment.
Lungworms are slim, hair-like worms which are approximately 1 cm long. The two most common species of lungworm to infect cats are Aelurostrongylus abstrusus (feline lungworm) and Capillaria aerophila (Feline and canine bronchial capillarid).
Adult lungworms live in the terminal respiratory bronchioles and alveolar ducts of the lungs. Transmission of Aelurostrongylus abstrusus (feline lungworm) occurs when cats ingest an intermediate host such as a snail or slug, or more commonly by consuming animals who have been feeding on infected snails and slugs such as birds, rodents, and lizards. Larvae pass into the intestine and penetrate through the intestinal wall and migrate to the lungs via the bloodstream. The female adult lungworm lays eggs which hatch into microscopic larvae, travelling up the trachea where they are swallowed into the stomach and pass out of the cat via the feces.
- Shortness of breath
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic dry cough
Several worming medications are available to treat lungworm, which includes Fenbendazole, Moxidectin, Ivermectin, Praziquantel and Levamisole.
Treatment can be difficult, and it may be necessary to continue the anti-worming medication for up to 8 weeks, in some cases, more than one anti-parasitic medication be prescribed.
Leptospirosis is an infection caused by spirochete (corkscrew-shaped) bacteria of the genus Leptospira. There are more than 250 pathogenic (disease-causing) serotypes of Leptospira.
Transmission occurs via the urine-oral route from contaminated food or water contaminated with bacteria in urine from infected animals or by hunting and eating infected prey, which includes lizards and skinks.
The global distribution is worldwide, but it is most prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical areas with heavy rainfall as well as developing countries which include Latin America, the Indian subcontinent, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Australasia, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.
Clinical illness is rare in cats, as they have a natural resistance as well as an aversion to water.
Leptospirosis spreads throughout the body reproducing in the kidneys, liver, central nervous system, eyes and reproductive system. Clinical signs will vary according to the organ system affected as well as the age and immune status. Common symptoms include:
- Muscle stiffness
- Intermittent blood in the urine
- Speckled gums due to thrombocytopenia (low blood platelets)
- Eye discharge
- Nasal discharge
- Jaundice (yellow gums)
- Increased thirst and urination followed by absent urination as the kidneys fail
- Bloody vaginal discharge
- Miscarriage in pregnant females
Antibiotic therapy to kill the bacteria, which occurs in two phases. Penicillin to treat circulating leptospira which is then followed by tetracyclines.
Cats with severe clinical signs may require hospital therapy which may include fluid therapy, nutritional support and blood transfusion.
Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection caused by the Salmonella bacterium which lives in the intestines causing enteritis as well as vomiting and diarrhea. Infection occurs in a wide range of warm and cold-blooded animals who shed the bacteria in their feces. Cats can become infected via contaminated food or prey infected with the bacteria.
Cats appear to have a natural resistance to salmonella, risk-factors include the strain of salmonella, stress, immune status and kittens and senior cats.
Clinical signs appear 2-4 days after infection and are related to gastrointestinal disturbances.
- Diarrhea (may or may not contain blood or mucus)
- Poor appetite (anorexia)
- High fever
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
Mild cases can be treated as an outpatient with a bland diet. Cats with clinical signs such as vomiting or diarrhea will receive fluid support and possibly antibiotics.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii which is capable of infecting multiple warm and cold-blooded animals including humans, livestock, birds and lizards. Cats are the only definitive hosts to T. gondii; this means that T. gondii can sexually reproduce in the cat.
Infection with toxoplasmosis in people is of significance because it poses a risk of congenital defects or miscarriage for the unborn baby.
Cats become infected when they consume prey or meat containing infectious bradyzoite cysts, ingesting sporulated oocysts in the feces of an infected host or transplacental infection. Once inside the body, the parasite replicates in the gastrointestinal tract and disseminates around the body where it replicated intracellularly.
Most cats remain asymptomatic, young cats or immunosuppressed cats, such as those with FIV, FeLV or FIP., may show symptoms if destruction of the cells due to intracellular replication, is severe enough. Clinical signs will become apparent, which will depend on the organ affected.
Treatment is generally not necessary in healthy immunocompetent cats. A combination of Azithromycin and Clindamycin may be prescribed for symptomatic cats; however, these will not kill tissue cysts.
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