Few things stimulate a cat’s pleasure faster than catnip. Exposure to this simple herb can reveal a new side to their feline personality. Many cats will go crazy at the smell of this plant.
Catnip has a reputation of being a feline drug and many cat owners wonder if it is safe to give it to their pet. Giving catnip in small doses does no harm. Using it as a treat can be quite good for your cat’s emotional health. It relieves stress and can help them get rid of nervous energy.
What Is Catnip?
Catnip is a type of mint plant found in many countries throughout the world. It can grow up to three feet high and has many branches filled with purple flowers and heart shaped leaves.
The catnip plant has an aromatic oil called nepetalactone. When cats smell this compound, it triggers the part of the feline brain that responds to happy pheromones. This is why cats react the way they do.
Many cats seem to go crazy when they smell catnip by rolling, rubbing and running around. Eating catnip seems to produce the opposite effect. Cats often become mellow when they ingest the plant. This response to catnip usually lasts up to 10 minutes before the cat loses interest.
Catnip as a Training Tool
Creative cat owners can use catnip as a reward or incentive to promote good behavior in their felines. Rubbing dried catnip on a scratching post or cat tree can entice your cat to go there when they need to sharpen their claws instead of tearing your couch to shreds.
Lacing a cat toy with some catnip can be beneficial for inducing an indoor cat to exercise. It will encourage them to be more active and play and prevent obesity. These cat toys should be stored in an airtight container when not in use, so the catnip stays fresh longer.
You can grow your own catnip plants in a home garden. You can buy more mature plants from a nursery or plant the seeds after the last major frost of the season. It is important to put the plant in an area where it has plenty of room to grow. Take steps to protect the growing plant from your cat so they don’t tear it out of the soil before it is fully mature.
“Catnip Confidential,” Veterinary Practice News. February 1, 2012.
Zoonosis refers to diseases that can be transmitted to humans from animals. In particular, they occur when an infected animal passes on bacteria, parasites, fungi or viruses to humans through scratches, saliva, feces and urine. Vectors (e.g., organisms like fleas and ticks) can also carry zoonotic diseases from the host to those they come into contact with.
Common Zoonotic Diseases
Zoonotic diseases can be broken into multiple categories: bacterial infections, parasitic infections, protozoal infections, fungal infections and viral infections.
Bartonellosis, also known as cat-scratch disease, occurs when a person is scratched or bitten by an infected cat. Fleas and ticks may also aid in transmission.
Of all bacterial infections that can be passed from feline to human, this is considered the most common, affecting roughly 25,000 people per year in the United States alone. Those infected typically have swollen and inflamed lymph nodes, particularly around the neck, head and upper extremities. Other symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Achy muscles and joints
Healthy individuals who contract bartonellosis tend to recover and have no long-term effects; however, the disease may take several months to disappear completely. People with immune deficiencies are at greater risk of suffering more severe consequences, however. In some cases, death has resulted.
Another bacterial disease that can be transmitted is salmonellosis. Though often caught by eating contaminated food, cats that eat raw meat or wild birds can carry and pass the bacteria in their feces, causing fever, diarrhea and stomach pains in humans within one to three days. This particular bacterial disease tends to resolve on its own, but, in the event of severe dehydration or in the event that the infection reaches the organs, medical attention will be necessary.
While fleas and ticks are external parasites that can cause inflammation and itching when they bite humans and can also act as vectors for bartonellosis and other zoonotic diseases, the focus of this section will look at feline intestinal parasites, such as roundworms and hookworms, which are transmitted to people through fecal exposure and have the potential to cause diseases of the eyes and other organs.
In most cases, intestinal parasites are contracted when litter boxes are handled and the person places their hands in their mouth or on their face without having washed or thoroughly washed them first. Exposure can lead to a host of symptoms that include:
- Shortness of breath
- Bloody stool (which may or may not contain the worm)
- Vomiting (which may or may not contain the worm)
- Weight loss
- Stomach pain
- Itchy rash
- Lack of appetite
Protozoans are single-celled organisms that have animal-like characteristics, such as being predatory and motile. There are three common protozoal diseases that can be transferred from cat to human: giardiasis, toxoplasmosis and cryptosporidiosis.
The protozoans come into contact with cats—and are later transmitted to humans—when a cat consumes an infected bird or rodent. Contamination can also occur if a cat eats feces expelled from an infected cat. In all cases, the infected cat expels the parasite in its feces for up to two weeks, at which point, the parasite takes one to five days to mature before being able to cause infection.
Handling an infected cat’s litter box without thoroughly cleansing one’s hands can be the catalyst for protozoal infections, as can improperly washing fruits and vegetables that have been grown in an environment (soil) where infected cats, birds and rodents drop their feces.
The main symptom associated with protozoal infections is diarrhea; however, medical attention may be required for people with immunodeficiencies, as they may develop severe illness.
Fungal infections, such as ringworm, often develop in cats when they live in environments with a large number of animals. Though the name ringworm would lead one to believe the infection is caused by a worm, that is not the case; it is actually a skin infection brought on by a group of fungi.
When a human pets an infected cat’s skin or fur, or if fungal spores are dropped through the shedding of the cat’s skin cells or fur, the infection can be passed along. In cats, ringworm comes in the form of a gray, dry, scaly patch of skin. In humans, it often presents as a red, round, itchy lesion with a ring of scale surrounding the perimeter.
Many viruses can only be passed from species to species, such as human to human or cat to cat. However, rabies is a viral disease that can cross species and, when it comes to human-cat interaction, it results when a human is bitten by an infected cat.
Cats are very vulnerable to this disease. Symptoms vary, but often affect the central nervous system. While rabies is almost always fatal for cats, the same is not true for humans. Still, symptoms in humans can range from mild to severe, and include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Paralysis (partial)
- Trouble swallowing
Preventing Zoonotic Diseases
Those with compromised immune systems (i.e. young children, pregnant women and the elderly) are more susceptible to zoonotic diseases, but healthy people can be affected too. While zoonotic diseases are rare—humans are more likely to catch diseases from other humans than from their cat—there are precautions you can take to lessen your risk, including:
- Carefully handling litter boxes, preferably with gloves
- Treating cats that have fleas and ticks with proper medications and treatment protocols
- Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly
- Ensuring your cat is vaccinated
- Cleaning food and water bowls often
- Keeping your cat indoors
If you have any questions about zoonotic diseases or think your cat may be suffering from one, call our office today.
Thanks to advancements in veterinary care, today’s cats can live well into their teen years. It is not uncommon for cats to live to be 18 or even older. However, in order for cats to live a long full life, they need proactive veterinary care to stay healthy.
As cats age, they are at greater risk for chronic diseases and health complications. However, cats are also masters at hiding illness. Semi-annual veterinary appointments are the best way to monitor a cat’s well being. For a senior cat, six months can be the equivalent of two years – a number of health changes can happen during this period.
During a wellness exam, a veterinarian will check a cat’s weight and body condition, skin and coat quality, eyes, ears, thyroid, heart, lungs, joints, mouth and abdomen. A veterinarian may also conduct diagnostic blood work and parasite screenings. While physical changes are easily noticed (e.g., weight loss or change in coat quality), internal changes are more difficult to detect. Diagnostic tests provide an important snapshot of a cat’s internal health and can detect problems such as hyperthyroidism and kidney disease.
Feline hyperthyroidism and kidney problems are the most common health conditions affecting older cats. Hyperthyroidism affects many organs in the body, including the heart. Hyperthyroidism can lead to secondary heart disease as well as hypertension (high blood pressure). Kidney disease can also cause hypertension. Your veterinarian can check for this during your cat’s exam. Blood tests during a semi-annual wellness screening are the best way to detect hyperthyroidism and kidney problems. With early diagnosis, medical treatments can be very successful in managing these disease. These are examples of why proactive veterinary care is so important for senior cats.
Wellness exams are also an opportunity to evaluate a cat’s dietary needs. As cats age, their nutritional needs change. For example, cats with kidney problems should have a diet low in protein and phosphorus. Less active cats may need to be fed less in order to prevent weight gain and obesity. Other cats may become disinterested in food, resulting in weight loss. Cats that lose their sense of taste and smell may also lose interest in eating. Unfortunately, gradual weight loss can also go unnoticed, especially for longhaired cats. This is why nutrition evaluations and regular weigh-ins are so important.
Just like humans, cats will have different wellness needs as they age. Some cats may need a special diet while other cats may need medication to manage a chronic disease. Your veterinarian will make specific recommendations based on your cat’s wellness needs.
American Association of Feline Practitioners. Friends for Life, Caring for your Older Cat.
Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine. Hyperthyroidism in Cats.