My Cat Caught a Rat - Can They Get Sick?
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Cats have an innate hunting instinct which makes them seek out almost anything that moves. When they have access to the outside, their potential prey becomes even more varied. One potential prey for cats is the rat. Depending on their size, some rats can seem more like predator than prey. This can cause the cat to get in a fight, even if they are not trying to eat the rat. This can lead to cuts and wounds.
Whether it is due to the cat eating a rat or receiving injuries during a fight, it is understandable we will be worried about the cat getting sick. At AnimalWised, we look at what happens when my cat caught a rat. We ask, can a cat get sick from catching rats and, if so, what diseases can be spread?
Can cats get sick by rats?
Whether your cat ate a rat, they bring a dead one into the house or you see them get into a fight with a big rodent, many would be concerned about potential diseases. This concern is valid as it is possible a rat will transmit diseases to your cat, but usually only when the rat is infected with a given pathology. Since rats carry bacteria over their bodies, it is also possible bacteria can infect a wound sustained during a fight.
If a cat eats a rat, they will ingest material which can be in the rat's flesh. This includes parasites which can then infest the cat's organism. Many domestic cats will not ingest a rat they catch, however, Since we provide them with enough food to survive, cats often only catch rats to express their hunting instinct. For this reason, we often see them toying with the rodent rather than trying to eat them.
Although it will not always occur, it is possible cats will become infected by disease when they catch a rat. Such diseases may include:
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite of the coccidia group which has domestic cats and other felines as the definitive hosts. This is because rats infested with the parasite are not affected by them. It is not until the T. gondii infest the cat that their life cycle can be completer. However, toxoplasmosis in cats is zoonotic, meaning it can transfer to other animals and humans.
The parasites group in cysts within the tissue of the rat, known as oocysts. When a cat ingests tissue from an infected rat, they eat the cysts which then release the parasite into the cat's intestine. Here the parasite reproduces sexually, shedding the oocysts which can be seen in the cat's feces as white specks.
This parasite also has an extraintestinal cycle which multiplies asexually in the cells of various tissues. This causes various clinical signs. Generally. these tissues are those of the central nervous system, digestive system, eyes, skin, muscles, heart and respiratory system. In many cases, the cat will not show a no obvious symptoms, but older and immunosuppressed cats are more likely to manifest symptoms.
For humans, T. gondii poses a serious threat to pregnant woman. This is because these intracellular parasites can infest the fetus. Serious birth complications can occur including miscarriage, low birth weight and central nervous system problems. Their hearing and vision can be impaired, and organ failure can occur.
Rodents such as rats and mice can act as vectors for the bacterium Francisella tularensis, infecting cats and causing clinical signs such as the following:
- Ocular and nasal discharge
- Enlargement of the liver (hepatomegaly)
- Spleen enlargement (splenomegaly)
- Muscle pain
- Ulcers on the tongue and palate
Tularemia is also a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from cas to humans. The likelihood of this happening depends on the region in which you live as it is most common in Northern Europe. Types of tularemia infection include glandular, oculoglandular, ulceroglandular, oropharyngeal, pneumonic, and septicemic.
Rats can also carry the bacteria Leptospira, responsible for leptospirosis. While cats are less susceptible to contracting the disease in its moderate or severe form, humans are more sensitive. The latter can develop clinical signs such as fever, vomiting, chills, headaches, anemia, jaundice and rashes, even requiring hospitalization in some cases.
The main route of transmission of these bacteria is from the urine of rats. Our cats can come in contact with rat urine if they catch one in their mouth or if they eat one. Leptospira in cats, after spreading through the blood, tends to most frequently affect the kidneys. Symptoms are usually mild, but if liver or kidney inflammation occurs, it can affect irgan function. Other observable signs can include:
- Bad breath
Rats, as well as other rodents, can carry hantavirus. This a virus capable of causing serious consequences in humans, but cats only act as asymptomatic carriers. The contagion occurs through dust contaminated with cat excrement or through their saliva, urine and feces. Hantavirus in humans causes two clinical forms, which are hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome and the potentially severe hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
For more information on cats getting diseases from pests, take a look at our article on whether cats can get worms from eating flies.
In rats, the bacterium Yersinia pestis can be found. Infection from this bacterium provokes the disease we know as the plague. Cats become infected when they ingest rats that carry it, while humans become infected after being bitten by fleas from infected rats. The clinical signs that cats suffer are the following:
- Muscle pain
- Enlargement of the lymph nodes
- Oral injuries
During the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Pope Innocent VIII ordered cats to be persecuted and sacrificed. This order lasted for several centuries, practically eliminating the entire population of domestic felines. The consequence was an increase in the number of rats, a fact that influenced the beginning of the Black Death of the 14th century.
Since rats spread diseases to both cats and humans, they are considered vermin. When we have them in our home, it can result in serious practical and health consequences, so we will need to eliminate them. This often requires the use of rodenticide, commonly known as rat poison. If we have a cat in a home infested with rats, or the cat has access to such a home, we need to ensure they do not come in contact with the rodenticide.
If a cat does ingest rat poison, either fully or partially, serious harm can result. Generally, rat poisons act as blood clotting agents, so the clinical signs are those derived from an anticoagulant effect:
- Internal and external bleeding
- Pale mucous membranes
- Weak pulse
- Heart rate alteration
- Dyspnoea (labored breathing)
How do I prevent my cat from eating rats?
As we have seen, it is important that cats do not eat rats and it is best if they do not come in contact with them at all. This is for the benefit of both cats and the humans with whom they share their lives. For many, the best thing we can do is keep them as a house cat and restrict access to the outdoors. If the cat does have outdoor access, we need to ensure they are well fed so they do not actively seek out prey such as mice or rats.
If rats enter the home, we will need to call animal control or an exterminator. Whether a severe infestation or an isolated case, we should not allow the cat to interact with the rat. We may need to take the cat away or simply ensure they are in a different part of the home until the rat problem is resolved. If rat traps are used, we need to be careful and ensure the cats will not come in contact with them.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Caught a Rat - Can They Get Sick?, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.
- American Veterinary Medical Association. Leptospirosis in dogs and cats. Available at: https://ebusiness.avma.org/files/productdownloads/Lepto_Sp.pdf
- Surprise My Cat. (2021). Feline toxoplasmosis, are cats dangerous for pregnant women? Available at: https://shop.surprisemy.cat/blogs/catterblog/toxoplasmosis-gatos-embarazadas