Clostridium botulinum in Cats
Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic disease related to ingestion of raw meat and dead animals. The Clostridium botulinum neurotoxin causes spreading weakness, starting in the back legs and ascending to the trunk, front legs, and neck, followed by paralysis of all four limbs.
Cats are generally resistant to the more severe effects of this toxin, but in some cases they may become severely ill. Typically, disease conditions occur within a few hours to six days after eating spoiled animal meat that is infected with the Clostridium botulinum type C preformed neurotoxin.
Mildly affected cats generally recover over a period of several days with supportive treatment. However, cats that are having difficulties breathing will require intensive care monitoring. In severe cases, paralysis can affect the ability to breath killing the affected animal.
Symptoms and Types
- Sudden spreading weakness starting in hind legs and ascending to the trunk, front legs, and neck
- Severe weakness of all four legs or paralysis of all four limbs (which usually occurs within 12 to 24 hours of onset)
- Clostridium botulinum type C preformed neurotoxin, eaten in dead animal carcasses, or in uncooked or spoiled foods
You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your cat’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition, such as contact with spoiled meat or dead animals.
Your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam of your cat, with standard tests including a chemical blood profile, complete blood count and urinalysis. Blood will also be taken to test for the presence of botulinum toxin in the blood serum. Likewise, your veterinarian may take a stool sample or vomit to test for the the toxin.
X-rays of your cat’s chest may be taken to check the health of the lungs and upper digestive tract, as this toxin can cause paralysis of the respiratory muscles.
Your veterinarian will treat your cat according to how severely or mildly it is affected by the botulinum toxin. If it is a mild reaction, your cat may be temporarily hospitalized and treated with a urinary catheter and intravenous feeding. However, if your cat is severely affected and is having trouble breathing due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles, it will need close monitoring in an intensive care unit. Under these circumstances, your cat will have a stomach tube placed for feeding and will be hooked up to a ventilator to assist its breathing.
Regardless of the severity, however, a type C antitoxin will be given to your cat to neutralize the botulinum toxin and prevent further progression. Complete recovery usually takes place over 1 to 3 weeks.
Living and Management
Because it is easier to prevent this disease than treat it, you should never allow your cat to eat dead carcasses or spoiled raw meat. If you live in a rural area where this is a possibility, you will need to be on guard, as far as checking your property regularly for the presence of dead animals.
Likewise, in an urban area, where cats come into contact with rodents and other foraging animals, you will need to be aware of the symptoms of various diseases that can affect your cat as a result of eating these animals. In addition, you should always feed your cat food that has been thoroughly cooked.
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