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“Plague” is a bacterial infection that is most commonly found in wild rodent populations. The bacteria that cause it (Yersinia pestis) are carried by fleas that infect wild rodents (e.g. prairie dogs, squirrels), rabbits and cats. The disease can be found every year in Colorado and other western states, typically from April through November.

Dogs are generally resistant to infection and humans can become infected. However, cats are highly susceptible to infection. The most common route of infection for cats is through consumption of infected rodents, although cats may also be bitten by an infected flea. Infected fleas can jump on to animal or humans, and may be transported on coyotes, foxes, and birds that feed on infected carcasses.

There are three manifestations of “plague.” Bubonic is the most common form and causes high fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and enlarged lymph nodes. The Septicemic form is less common and will also cause high fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and progresses to vomiting, diarrhea, shock and possible death. The Pneumonic form of the plague is the most severe and may develop secondary to bubonic or septicemic forms. It is of particular concern to people in contact with infected cats. Pneumonic plague affects the respiratory system and causes fever, oral/nasal discharge, coughing and sneezing, and difficulty breathing. Most cases of plague are treatable with antibiotics if caught early enough.

Transmission of plague from cats to humans has occurred via transportation of infected fleas into homes, bites, scratches, direct contact with infectious tissues and fluid, and by inhalation of infectious aerosolized droplets. Flea prevention is highly recommended for outdoor pets, and people are encouraged not to pick up or come into contact with dead rodents, rabbits or stray cats. If you find dead rabbits or rodents, please report them to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (1-877-462-2911). If you suspect that your cat may be infected, or you have an outdoor cat that needs flea control, please call GoldenView Veterinary Hospital (303-279-9182) to schedule an appointment to evaluate your pet.