Posted By: Polly - Vet

Pussycat Parasites

On a quiet day in late September, we had an unexpected arrival at Wells surgery.  A kitten had been found in a flowerpot in a ditch, well away from any human habitation.  Her rescuer explained there were feral cats in the area, and he suspected she was one of them.  Our Veterinary Nurse, Natalie, quickly took her in to get her warm and dry.

The kitten wasn’t a pretty sight. Black with huge white paws, a scruffy matted coat, eyes sticky with infection, and fly eggs sticking to her fur, she wasn’t exactly a chocolate box picture.  It was clear she hadn’t seen her mum for some time, and without help, she would have died of dehydration and fly strike within hours. She weighed less than 250 grammes, and we estimated she was around 4 weeks old.

We dried her off and popped her on a fluffy bed on a heat mat, then gently cleaned her up and combed out the fly eggs, some of which were already starting to hatch into tiny maggots.  We bathed her sticky eyes so they could open, then offered her some soft food.  Boy, was this kitten hungry! She ate and ate until she fell asleep, face first in her bowl.

That evening, I took the kitten home with me, knowing she would need care and attention around the clock for at least a couple of weeks. My husband took this news with a knowing sigh.  And his eyes rolled again when a similar little urchin arrived two days later, presumably another from the same abandoned litter.  I was relieved to have found the second kitten when the two of them snuggled in together on their heat mat.  I’m sad to say, their mum as never found.

We had stopped the maggots before they started, thank heavens.  Next was to deal with the eye infection.  The first kitten (who had immediately earned the nickname “Maggot”) responded really well to antibacterial eye drops, but the second, white kitten had developed and ulcer on her left eye and it took two weeks to finally get her comfortable.  Next, we needed to work on the internal parasites, or worms, that these kittens would inevitably have inherited from their mother.  We routinely recommend puppies and kittens are wormed against roundworms after weaning, no matter where they come from, but feral kittens will have the highest worm burden because their mothers hunt to eat, and will pick up lots of worms this way.  A dose of worming liquid by mouth, every day for 3 days, was a minor challenge, but well worth the trouble.  Not only do roundworms damage the kittens’ intestines, but their microscopic eggs can be inadvertently passed to humans when we handle our cats, causing a range of health problems, from asthma and allergies to blindness.

But the kittens still weren’t quite right.  They were eating well, bright and friendly; but their coats were dull and they still had a bit of diarrhoea.  Time to look for more “bugs”.  We collected some faecal samples and sent them to an external laboratory to check for pathogens. And, Bingo, there was our answer. Our unfortunate kittens had yet another nasty passenger on board. Campylobacter is a bacterial infection that many of us will have encountered.  It’s one of the common causes of “food poisoning” in humans.  We often find it as a cause of diarrhoea and ill-thrift in puppies and kittens, although adult dogs and cats can get the same infection and show no signs at all, as their immune systems are better developed.  And young children, as well as adult humans with weak immune systems, can catch Campylobacter from infected kittens and puppies, too. Happily, we can treat Campylobacter with a very specific antibiotic.  5 days on, and finally the kittens were passing perfect “poos”, and no longer posing a threat to the rest of us. Phew!

From that point on, Maggot and her sister, Fly, have gone from strength to strength.  They are currently about 9 weeks old, have found their forever home, and are starting to explore their new house and terrorise the family dog.  Despite the fact they were born feral, they were handled from a young age and so are friendly and domesticated.  The only reminder of their tough childhood is the growling you hear when one tries to eat from the other’s bowl.  They still haven’t forgotten how it felt to be hungry.  We’ll keep giving them worming treatments every month until they are about 6 months old, to make sure those pesky roundworm numbers are kept to a minimum. Once they have been neutered and start going outdoors, we’ll keep worming them, at least every 3 months, to keep them and their family safe.  Then, of course, we’ll need to start protecting them against fleas, tapeworms and ticks, too.

It’s a jungle out there when you’re a cat!

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