Can You Get Bubonic Plague from Your Cat? The Problem is Much, Much Smaller.

New Bubonic Plague Case in Oregon

A new case of bubonic plague in a human has been documented in Deschutes County, Oregon, USA. Health authorities indicate a probable transmission originating from a pet cat showing symptoms of the disease. It’s been more than eight years since the state has had a documented case.

Section 1: Bubonic Plague Transmission Via Fleas – Don’t Blame the Cats!

Orange and white cat licking its paw with black cat looking out window | Mieshelle Nagelschneider | Cat Behaviorist |

Upon the demise of an infected rodent, its fleas become vectors with the ability to transmit the bacterium Yersinia pestis, or Plague, to animals or humans by biting them. Anywhere there are rodents, there are fleas. Your cat or dog does not have to be near a rodent to contract the disease – they can simply be bit by the infected flea visiting their own backyard, a boarding kennel, or doggie daycare. You can also get bit by the infected flea your pet brings into the home by simply walking across your living room carpet. Cat behaviorist at The Cat Behavior Clinic in Portland, Oregon, Mieshelle Nagelschneider, says, “it’s crucial not to attribute this recent illness solely to cats and become concerned about them; after all, even dogs can introduce fleas.” She adds, “where fleas are concerned with the illness, it really comes down to being bit by a flea that is a vector for the bacterium.”

In 2015, a teenage girl in Oregon contracted the disease from a flea bite. An approximate annual occurrence of seven human plague cases persists, with the focal point centered in the rural Western regions, notably spanning states like New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon, and Nevada. Around the world, up to 3000 cases are reported each year and if not treated promptly, can be life threatening. It’s been called “the Black Death” because of the blacks scabs it can form from its hallmark skin sores.

Section 2: Flea Treatments for Cats and Dogs – Don’t Ignore Preventative Measures

If your cat or dog goes outside, even if only for a few minutes, they are exposed to fleas. They will then bring the fleas inside your home giving the fleas a warm place to live and your pet to serve them their favorite blood meal. It’s always a good idea to flea treat even if you don’t see fleas on your pet.

Section 3: The Super Flea and Bubonic Plague

The flea has evolved into what is now called the “Super Flea.” In the veterinary world, this means that very popular topical flea treatments, over-the-counter and prescription alike, are no longer as effective as they used to be. The flea has developed an immunity to these treatments over the years and the companies that make them have had to keep up. Prescription flea treatments like Bravecto, which last at least twice as long as other popular prescription flea treatments, have been tackling the resistant flea. “Don’t even bother with an over-the-counter flea treatment”, Nagelschneider says, “ your cat is still going to scratch and not be living his best life.”

Section 4: Fleas Do Not Live On Your Pet

Orange and white cat sleeping | Mieshelle Nagelschneider | Cat Behaviorist |

You or your vet may have run a flea comb through your pet’s fur to help diagnose a flea problem, but this is not the definitive way to know if your pet has fleas. Knowing your cat or dog’s daily activities, and where it’s been is all you need to know if you should flea treat or not. Nagelschneider says, “Grooming and boarding facilities, doggie day cares, veterinary clinics, even an elevator in your building are common places your cat or dog can contract fleas. It’s not if they get bit by a flea, it’s when!” Nagelschneider goes on to say that common signs of fleas can simply be an itchy pet and that, “you really should not see your cat scratching behind their ears or overly licking and chewing at their hind quarters. If you do, discuss with your vet the proper flea treatment.”

Section 5: One Way to Prevent Bubonic Plague – and It’s Easy

“Yes, bubonic plague is rare in the United States,” Nagelschneider says, and who just happens to have grown up in Deschutes county where the current bubonic case is, “but if your cat licks its paw and ingests a flea, they also commonly contract tapeworm, and this is another very good reason to flea treat.” Her partner Dr. Brad Krohn, a licensed veterinarian in Portland, Oregon says, “It’s important to remember that indoor-only cats need to be on a prescription-strength flea prevention year around.”

Section 6: But You Don’t See Fleas

Nagelschneider agrees with Dr. Brad’s recommendation of year around flea treatment saying, “I have worked with thousands of cat owners for over 35 years that move into a home or apartment with their cat that’s never even been outside and eventually they have a major flea infestation because whoever was there before them, did not flea treat.” She then warns, “again, you may never actually see a flea on your pet, but that’s because fleas don’t live on your pet and this gives you a false sense of security and next thing you know it’s a crash course in flea infestation.” She recommends cat and dog owners read this informative document from Mississippi State University on proper flea treatment for your cat or dog.

Section 7: Other Preventative Measures

Do you have a dog that poops in your back yard every day? Did you know that not picking up your dog’s poop in the backyard attracts rats? Yes! Rats enjoy eating dog poop. Do your best to pick up the dog poop in back yard and keep garbage cans secure so they won’t draw the rodents that may be carrying the fleas.

The last thing Nagelschneider says is this, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from cat owners, ‘but I don’t see fleas on my cat!’ and I tell them that’s exactly the point, you don’t see them.”

Cartoon Image of Mieshelle Nagelschneider | Cat Behaviorist