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Salmonella in Cats: Causes, Signs & Prevention (Vet Answer)

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	Dr. Iulia Mihai Photo

Written by

Dr. Iulia Mihai

Veterinarian, DVM MSc

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Salmonella is a major public health concern because it can affect most animals and humans. Salmonellosis is the infection caused by Salmonella bacteria. The disease can be transmitted from cats to humans and vice versa, being the second most common zoonotic condition.

Cats can contract the bacteria directly or through contact with the feces of another infected animal. They can also become infected when they eat or drink contaminated food or water. Pets can also suffer from this condition, or they can be carriers.

Salmonellosis can progress from acute or chronic enteritis to septicemia. The diagnosis is made by detecting the pathogen (in this case, the Salmonella bacteria) in your cat’s feces, and treatment consists in administering antibiotics (in mild cases) and supportive care and hospitalization (in severe cases).

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What Is Salmonellosis (Salmonella Infection) in Cats?

Salmonella infection, medically called salmonellosis, is a bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. The bacteria usually live in animal and human intestines and are eliminated in the stool.

These infections are common in cats around the world, with the exception of those living in the Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, or Norway), where Salmonella infection has a low incidence.

Most healthy cats recover in a few days without specific treatment. However, in some cases, diarrhea can cause severe dehydration, requiring immediate medical assistance because it can lead to your pet’s death. Also, life-threatening complications (septicemia) can occur if the infection exceeds the barrier of the digestive system.

salmonella bacteria growing on petri dish
Image Credit: Chansom Pantip, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Salmonellosis in Cats?

The clinical signs depend on the time when the infection has settled in the body and the severity of the condition. The clinical signs that cats infected with Salmonella can show are as follows:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (sometimes with mucus)
  • Dehydration
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate
  • Spontaneous abortion in the case of pregnant females
  • Abnormal vaginal secretions
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Shock
  • Skin diseases

The chronic form of Salmonella infection in cats can lead to severe clinical signs, such as:

  • Fever
  • Long-lasting diarrhea (3–4 weeks or more) that comes and goes
  • Weight loss
  • Blood loss
  • Infections in the body

In other cases, salmonellosis has led to:

  • Jaundice (yellow mucous membranes)
  • Seizures
  • Yellow to dark red feces
  • Pale oral mucosa

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What Are the Causes of Salmonellosis in Cats?

Salmonella is a gram-negative bacillus that belongs to the family Enterobacteriaceae, genus Salmonella. This bacterium is non-sporulated, mobile, and flagellate, possessing a specific antigen, somatic O. Salmonella lives in the intestinal tract of animals and humans. Even though it is mainly an intestinal pathogen, Salmonella can also cause systemic diseases, being isolated from different organs and blood. There are over 2,500 types of Salmonella. Infected animals can have two or more types in their body simultaneously.

Cats can become infected when they consume improperly prepared or heated food. Basically, they become infected when they come into contact with infected matter, including contaminated feces or urine. However, a low immune system and advanced age can play vital roles in the development of the infection. Also, if your cat has been or is being treated with antibiotics, they present a greater risk of being infected with Salmonella because antibiotics unbalance the intestinal flora. Salmonella can be killed at temperatures above 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit).

man petting a sick siberian cat
Image Credit: Olesya_Alexandrova, Shutterstock

How Is Salmonellosis Diagnosed in Cats?

If your cat shows any of the clinical signs, especially diarrhea, take them to the veterinarian immediately. Prolonged diarrhea can lead to dehydration, lack of appetite, lethargy, and weight loss. In turn, dehydration can lead to the death of your pet.

The veterinarian can confirm if your cat is suffering from a severe condition and if there is any cause for concern. The diagnosis of salmonellosis is made after the vet examines your cat and orders a microbiological examination of the feces or rapid testing. The vet can also recommend blood and urine tests.

If the veterinarian suspects that your cat's clinical signs are due to other conditions, they may recommend symptomatic treatment and supervision.

How Is Salmonellosis in Cats Treated?

Most salmonellosis cases are mild, and the cats can be treated at home according to your vet's instructions. In severe cases, though, cats will have to be hospitalized and kept under observation.

Cats with severe infections can become dehydrated, so they can only be treated in a veterinary clinic. Also, cats that lose a large amount of blood will need a transfusion.

In general, depending on how severe the infection is, your cat may need the following treatments:

  • Rehydration
  • Plasma or blood transfusions
  • Antibiotics
  • Glucocorticoids (to help prevent shock)
vet checking tabby cat in the clinic
Image Credit: mojo cp, Shutterstock

How Do I Care For a Cat With Salmonellosis?

Always follow the instructions and treatments prescribed by the vet. A food restriction may also be recommended/required for your cat. So, make sure you can provide your pet with the proper diet.

If your cat has been diagnosed with Salmonella infection, you must keep them separate from other pets. Other animals or even people can come into contact with them and easily become contaminated. It is also recommended to wash your hands after every interaction with your cat.

Your cat's hygiene should not be overlooked. Make sure the place your sick cat is occupying stays clean during the entire period of the disease and afterward, Salmonella can survive for a long time in the environment (several weeks to several months). Be careful to pick up after your cat, and do not leave their feces in the park, on the street, or in the garden; other animals and humans (especially children) can come into contact with these and become infected.

How Can I Prevent Salmonellosis in Cats?

To prevent salmonellosis in cats, avoid crowded spaces (if you take them out for a walk), and do not offer them raw meat or insufficiently prepared food.

The condition cannot truly be prevented, especially if you regularly take your cat outside or they live outdoors. These bacteria can be present anywhere, though especially in dirty and unkempt spaces (such as certain pet shelters).

Keep your house clean; it is more difficult for bacteria to develop when they do not have optimal conditions. You can also accidentally step in the feces of other infected animals and bring Salmonella home on the sole of your shoes, and your family and pets can come into contact with it.

Beautiful feline cat eating on a metal bowl
Image Credit: Krakenimages.com, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Long Does It Take for a Cat to Recover From Salmonellosis?

Cats infected with Salmonella that have had uncomplicated acute diarrhea usually recover without treatment. However, those suffering from complications will need hospitalization, therapy, and monitoring. Also, cats will shed the bacteria up to 6 weeks after the initial infection. Most cats become healthy carriers of Salmonella, and the elimination of the bacteria in the feces can be reactivated by a weakened immune system, other infections, or stress.

Can Indoor Cats Get Salmonellosis?

Indoor cats can become infected with Salmonella by eating raw meat and unprocessed food. They can also become infected if you step in contaminated animal feces and then bring this home on your shoes. Signs of salmonellosis in cats include vomiting, diarrhea, shock, lack of appetite, and weight loss. Take your cat to the vet if they have diarrhea, as it can lead to dehydration, which can be fatal.

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Salmonellosis is an infection caused by the bacteria Salmonella spp. There are over 2,500 types worldwide. Although all cats can become infected with this bacterium, those that do not live in Nordic countries, that have a low immune system, that are old, or that have taken or are taking antibiotics are more prone. Clinical signs are usually mild but can worsen and lead to severe diarrhea that lasts for a long time, along with blood loss, jaundice, fever, dehydration, vomiting, shock, and septicemia. If your cat has diarrhea, take them to the veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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Featured Image Credit: Babul Hosen, Shutterstock