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Are Cats to Blame for Spreading the Bubonic Plague? The Answer Might Surprise You!

Cute cat siting on window sill and waiting for something. Fluffy pet looks in window.

In an era where every sneeze or cough could send anyone into a spiral of health-related anxiety, the last thing you’d expect to hear about is the bubonic plague making headlines. Yet, here we are, with a confirmed human case right in Oregon, sparking widespread curiosity and concern. But before you start side-eyeing your feline friend, let’s unravel the truth about this ancient disease and how it’s making a comeback in the most unexpected ways.

Quick Facts About the Bubonic Plague

  • Historical Context: The bubonic plague is historically known as the “Black Death” that decimated Europe in the 14th century, killing an estimated 50 million people.
  • Transmission Facts: The plague is usually transmitted through the bites of infected fleas, which can be carried by rodents. Cats, being hunters of rodents, can become infected and, in rare cases, transmit the disease to humans.
  • Modern Occurrences: Despite its medieval connotations, the plague still appears in a few dozen cases annually in the United States, predominantly in rural and semi-rural areas of the Western states.

A Blast from the Past: The Plague is Still Among Us!

Despite the clickbait tone of this national news, Felix wanted to get to the bottom of what might be going on. Is this another cat smear campaign? Or is there some wisdom we can walk away with?

Felix expert Preston Turano, DVM, shares, “Many people aren’t aware that the bubonic plague has not been eradicated and that cases do pop up from time to time in pets and people.” Indeed, the recent buzz isn’t unfounded, with this case in Deschutes County, Oregon catching the media’s eye. The culprit? The bacteria Yersinia Pestis, a name that sounds as sinister as its effects, primarily resides in rodents and wild animals, hitching rides on fleas.

How Cats Come into the Picture

So, where do our beloved cats fit into this narrative? According to Turano, “The most common transmission of Y. Pestis to humans or companion animals is through the flea bite. However, humans can also contract the bacteria through close contact with their companion animal.” Cats, curious by nature, can encounter infected fleas or rodents, becoming unwitting carriers of the bacteria.

Not a Feline Fault

Before casting blame on our purring companions, it’s crucial to understand that cats are more victims than villains in the spread of the bubonic plague. The real issue lies in the interaction between wildlife, fleas, and the environments we share.

Turano advises pet parents on precautionary measures: “Pet owners can reduce risk of exposure by making sure their animal is on proper flea control, avoiding rodent nests or areas where rodents live, and keeping their pets indoors or on a leash to minimize contact with wild animals and rodents.” Hear that, outdoor cat? Staying inside is for your own good!

A Ray of Hope

Despite the scary thought of such a disease lurking in the shadows, there’s good news. “The good news is that in modern times, the plague can be treated with antibiotics and in most cases, the human or animal will survive and return to a normal life,” assures Turano. Early detection and treatment are key, underscoring the importance of vigilant pet care and prompt veterinary visits.

Conclusion: An Unlikely Foe, a Treatable Threat

The narrative around the bubonic plague and cats needs a shift from blame to understanding and precaution. Our fabulous felines aren’t the enemy; ignorance and negligence are.

So, next time you cuddle up with your cat, remember that awareness and care are your best weapons against any health threat, ancient or modern. Let’s not forget, with a vigilant eye and a little help from our vets, we can ensure that both we and our pets live long, healthy, and happy lives together.


By Lizz Caputo

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