NYC Rat Patrol Finds Plethora of Disease: Is Your Pet at Risk?

October 22, 2014

ratHistorians believe rats arrived in the new world as stowaways on the sailing ships of explorers like Christopher Columbus.  These “colonist” rats brought diseases such a plague and typhus. A recently published study of rats in New York City “rats” on the veritable Noah’s Ark of organisms infecting these ubiquitous pests.

Scientists ratting on the rat
One hundred and thirty three NYC rats were collected for study. Samples of urine, feces and blood obtained from these rats were tested for the genetic material of bacteria, viruses and protozoa. For those organisms like E. coli, known to infect rats, humans and pets, very specific tests were performed to identify these pathogens. Several intestinal pathogens were found in the rats, in addition to E. coli, Clostridium and  Salmonella.

Another concerning, but not surprising bacteria found in the rats was LeptospiraLeptospira bacteria spreads to humans and dogs through the urine of infected rats. At The Animal Medical Center, we see a couple of canine patients a year with severe, life-threatening kidney failure from Ieptospirosis.

What wasn’t found
Nearly as interesting as the list of organisms that were identified, was the list of organisms not identified. One of the most deadly diseases carried by rats and having the ability to infect people and their pets is the plague. Reassuringly, not a single rat was infected with the plague causing bug, Yersinia pestis. Ditto for Listeria, a food borne illness, and Toxoplasma, a serious disease in pregnant women.

Some surprises
The Seoul hantavirus was identified in some of the study rats. This is a different version of the virus than the one carried by mice that caused the hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite National Park a couple of years ago. According to the recently published paper, the Seoul hantavirus has been identified in rats residing in other urban areas, but this is the first documented report of this virus in the Big Apple. Hantavirus appears to be a disease not spread to pets, and only to humans in rare cases.

The scientists screened the rat samples for previously unidentified viruses and found the genetic material of 18 new viral species. Most of these novel viruses are related to known viruses, but their clinical significance remains to be elucidated.

Why study rats?
Some might question why the despised rat is studied. Rat health and disease have important implications for our health and the health of our pets. In urban areas, rats live in close proximity to us, our pets and our food. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 75% of emerging diseases start in animals, so our future health and that of our pets may lie in the study of creatures like the rat.


Your Cat and Your Unborn Child

June 26, 2013

This blog is written in honor of our furry feline friends. Remember, June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, so visit your local animal shelter to add a feline to your family.

baby-catI frequently get telephone calls from expectant mothers who are worried about the impact of how interacting with their cat might impact the health of their unborn baby. Foremost in most people’s mind is toxoplasmosis, but if you are “in the family way” there are other issues regarding your cat and the expected arrival that you might want to consider.

What is toxoplasmosis and how is it contracted?
Pregnant women and their obstetricians worry about toxoplasmosis, which is an infection caused by a parasite carried by many warm blooded animals, especially cats. If you become infected with Toxoplasma gondii while you are pregnant, the organism can cross the placenta and make your baby sick. Because this organism is widespread in nature, pregnant women can be exposed to Toxoplasma through mechanisms other than their pet cat. Consumption of undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables, exposure to cat feces while gardening and contaminated cutting boards are all potential sources of Toxoplasma organisms. Wash all vegetables before you eat them and scrub your cutting boards with hot soapy water or sanitize them in the dishwasher.

Litter box dangers
If you are a cat owner, you’ll need to avoid contact with your cat’s litter box. Cat feces become infectious with Toxoplasma organisms about 24 hours after defecation. Daily removal of solid waste from your cat’s litter box is critical to protect your baby, but should be done by someone else in the household. Litter boxes should be thoroughly cleaned with scalding hot water on a weekly basis to destroy Toxoplasma organisms. Protecting your family against toxoplasmosis is just one more reason to keep your cat indoors since cats contract toxoplasmosis when they consume rodents and other small mammals.

Avoiding a fall
Although you may be radiant due to your “delicate condition,” you may also be a bit clumsy and prone to falling. In one study, over a quarter of women reported falling during pregnancyTake extra care at feeding time or other times when your cat is likely to be under foot and might cause you to fall and hurt yourself or your baby.

Scratches and bites
In your efforts to have everything perfect for the arrival of your baby, you may think about giving your cat a comb out and pedicure. My recommendation is to have the grooming done by a professional before baby arrives to help keep scratches to a minimum and to save you from a bite or scratch which might be more serious than normal.

A new baby and a new cat?
Although June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, I recommend you exercise caution when adding a new cat to your family when you are pregnant. Adopting a cat with an unknown health history or a cat who recently lived outdoors could be risky. Kittens from shelters would be more likely to pose a risk to your unborn baby than a kitten born and raised by a loving family in their home.

With reasonable precautions, you can have it all – your favorite furry feline and a healthy, happy baby.


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