World TB Day

Vole eating a wormTuberculosis is a diseased caused by a group of bacteria called Mycobacterium.  They can cause disease in animals and humans so are known as zoonotic.

Cats can become infected with Mycobacterium bovis by coming into contact with infected animals (e.g. cattle, badgers) or their environment, or drinking unpasteurised milk.  Cats can also become infected with M. microti by hunting voles and other small mammals.

Signs of tuberculosis

Cat stretchingThe signs of tuberculosis in cats are varied and can be quite vague.  It can cause:

  • Intestinal problems:
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhoea
    • Weight loss
    • Abdominal masses
  • Skin problems:
    • Skin sores
    • Skin swelling
  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Respiratory problems:
    • Coughing
    • Rapid breathing

Diagnosis of tuberculosis

BacteriaTo diagnose tuberculosis, a sample (biopsy) of the affected tissue will need to be sent to a laboratory and stained using a special stain to show up the mycobacteria.

Treatment of tuberculosis in cats

Tuberculosis is a notifiable disease so relevant authorities will need to be informed.  Tuberculosis is very difficult to treat and because of the significant human health risk, treatment is generally not recommended and the advice is to euthanase.  Any other household pets should be carefully monitored and human household members should consult their doctor for advice.

If treatment is attempted, this usually involves a prolonged course (several months) of 2 or 3 different antibiotics.

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