Can Cats Get Food Poisoning?

If you have ever had food poisoning, you know it can range from an uncomfortable stomach to a stint in hospital.  One of the top causes of food poisoning is a bacterium called salmonella that we get from our food.  But can it affect cats?

Bacterial diseases

Cats are as susceptible to salmonella and other bacterial diseases as humans are, particularly effecting kittens when they are in crowded conditions and cats who have suffered with another illness that has weakened their immune system.  Salmonella can also stay alive for some months or even years in the right conditions, such as in soil or manure which the cat licks from their paws and contracts the illness.  It can also be contracted from eating raw or contaminated foods. 

Symptoms associated with this type of illness include vomiting, diarrhea and high fever as well as dehydration and general weakness.  They may have blood in their stool and it may have a particularly foul smell.  Dehydration happens when vomiting or diarrhea go on for too long while bacteria can also lead to abscesses in the liver, kidneys and lungs.  Occasionally, conjunctivitis may been seen and the illness can last initial for 4-10 days but in a lesser form for as much as a month and is sometimes fatal.

Both cats and dogs can be carriers of these illnesses without actually having any symptoms, called asymptomatic.  They can pass the bacteria on through their faeces.

Diagnosis and treatment

To diagnose an infection of salmonella, a vet will use a stool sample or take blood, sometimes even a sample of infected tissues in an extreme case.  The mildest forms of the infection will be left to clear from the system naturally but in more serious cases, antibiotics may be used.  This is not often as the antibiotics can actually promote the growth of the salmonella in some cases and if given are usually administered by injection rather than by tablet.

Sometimes intravenous fluids are needed if a cat is severely dehydrated and even those who are only mildly dehydrated may need replacement electrolytes and subcutaneous fluids administered.  Again, a vet will let you know if these treatments are required.

Preventing this illness is something out of owner’s hands but by maintaining sanitary conditions around the cat’s food and toilet areas, this can help reduce the risk.  Also being careful when handling litter and its contents is important as this disease can spread from one species to another and is considered a public health risk.

Other bacterial infections

Campylobacterosis is a disease that causes acute infectious diarrhea in kittens and is most often found in catteries and cat shelters where animals are in poor conditions.  It comes from contact with contaminated food or water, uncooked poultry or beef or from animal faeces and can survive as long as five weeks in water or unpasteurised milk.  Signs of the infection include diarrhea that has blood or mucus in it and the illness normally takes 5-15 days to clear the system.  It can pass to humans so care is needed.

Bordetella is an upper respiratory infection that can be present in normal and healthy cats as a secondary infection.  Very occasionally, it can cause pneumonia.  It is most common in young cats in shelters or where there are many animals and symptoms include a fever, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, eyes, and the swelling of the lymph nodes under the chin.  Antibiotics are sometimes needed but there is a vaccine available.