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Sunday, September 18th, 2016 @ 2:00pm

Dr. Melinda Barkley of Cat Care Professionals reviewed the most common infectious illnesses, including how to prevent, diagnose, and treat them.


Snots, Scales & Squirts: A Tale of Feline Infectious Disease from Animal Community Talks on Vimeo.


Barkley Melinda

Snot, Scales, and Squirts

Cats are survivors. These finely-honed specimens of evolutionary perfection have invulnerable pride, tireless curiosity, and peerless athleticism.

And yet, we cannot question how sensitive they are. In spite of their incredible evolutionary survival, cats are rather delicate individuals.

During her lecture, Dr. Melinda Barkley touched on the myriad of environmental burdens that not only cause illness in individuals, but can threaten entire colony, shelter, and household populations.

Infectious disease also poses a significant threat to the human-animal bond. In the worst cases, lack of emotional investment in the relationship can result in euthanasia, surrender, or abandonment of cats whose owners are not prepared to fight for them.

Fortunately, Portland’s extensive feline fostering network is particularly successful in reducing infectious disease in our local cat community because the population is spread out among many households.  Individuals are isolated if necessary, and given more focused attention and medical care.

When and Where to Look

Dr. Barkley first introduced us to her infectious disease protocol, which she applies to all kittens, and any febrile adult. She evaluates the patient for a wide range of symptoms caused by common ailments: ectoparasites (fleas, ear mites, lice), endoparasites (tapeworm, roundworm,), FeLV/FIV, and zoonotic diseases.

She then assesses possible environmental stressors:

Poor hygiene

  • Too few or unclean bathroom areas
  • Too many pets in the home
  • Human diseases transferrable to cats (such as scabies)

Emotional neglect or lack of enrichment

Noises and smells

  • Noisy neighbors
  • Children
  • Perfumes and strong odors

Inadequate nutrition

  • Not enough food, or too much competition
  • Poor quality or inappropriate formulation

At this point, it’s time to start examining whatever the cat is shedding – snot, scales, or squirts.

Dr. Barkley reminded us that the world is shrinking, so considering only regional diseases is no longer a safe bet. Take a detailed patient history to determine where the patient has been. If the patient’s full history is not available, consider everything.



Eye DiseaseNasal and ocular discharge are common symptoms of both viral and bacterial disease. Viral infections are often accompanied by a bacterial component, and both must be addressed as quickly as possible to prevent possible long-term or even life-long chronic disease.


Stomatitis, a condition which results in severe inflammation of the gums and mouth, is also common in cats. What causes this disease is still a mystery, though the leading theories include auto-immune disorders triggered by viral infections and/or stress.



Flea Allergy DermatitisFleas are by far the most prolific ectoparasite in both cats and dogs, and can cause a wide range of disease. Kittens with flea infestations can die from blood loss, while older cats often contract tapeworms. Patients who develop flea allergy dermatitis can, in severe or chronic cases, lead to MRSA infections.

Dr. Barkley’s advice to anyone considering adopting a cat, or adding another cat to the home, is to budget for flea prevention, in addition to planning for food, housing, and routine medical care. Flea prevention is affordable, easy, and reduces the risk of diseases caused or spread by fleas, including “cat scratch fever,” aka bartonella and haemobartonella.

Ringworm is another common scaly ailment of domestic cats. This highly contagious and zoonotic fungal infection is fairly simple to diagnose, and treatment is usually effective within 8 or so weeks. However, if left untreated, ringworm can result in ulcerated lesions and secondary bacterial skin infections.



Diarrhea and vomiting are symptoms of more diseases than we can count. When assessing a patient with these signs, a detailed patient history is absolutely essential.

To complicate matters, these symptoms are easily the most disruptive and distressing to pet owners, which means the “clock is ticking” on client cooperation.

Quick and correct diagnosis could be crucial to the survival of the patient, as well as its bond with the human family.

Some differentials may include:

Endoparasites –coccidia, roundworms, giardia, etc. Fecal parasite exam

Outdoor cats are especially high risk for parasitic infections due to their risk of exposure to contaminated water, soil, and infected wildlife.  Even without this exposure, most puppies and kittens are born with roundworms passed to them via mother’s milk, and this burden can result in vomiting, diarrhea, and other complications.

Nearly all endoparasites are treatable, but correct diagnosis is absolutely necessary. A diarrhea DNA panel can identify common parasites even with a small burden, or from a small sample.

Viral infection – including coronavirus, FeLV, and FIV.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is one of the most prolific fatal infections among domestic cats in North America.  Prognosis for infected individuals is guarded but, fortunately, the vaccine is very effective in preventing the disease. 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) often does not cause disease in cats until they age.  However, to reduce the risk of spreading the disease and limit exposure to other contageons, FIV cats should be kept indoors, ideally in a single-cat or FIV-only cat household. 

Almost all cats are exposed to coronavirus in their lifetime, but it only mutates in 1-3% of patients who then develop Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). Diagnosis of common viral infections is relatively easy, but the prognosis is variable and treatment is difficult.


Special Mention


Dr. Barkley refers to rabies as a “seatbelt disease.” It may not be likely that I’ll die in a car crash today, but I still put on my seatbelt because if the worst happens, it could save my life.

The metaphor applies perfectly to rabies – although the infection rate is relatively low, vaccination is an absolutely worthwhile preventative measure.


Most cats do not exhibit symptoms from this parasite, but are considered threats to human health, since this parasite is zoonotic.

Dr. Barkley pointed out that human medical literature indicates immune compromised people and anyone who ingests raw meat are most at risk, and cat-to-human infection is one of the least likely transmission pathways. Consider the fact that almost 80% of veterinarians today are female, most of whom have children without experiencing complications during pregnancy, even though their exposure to cats is much higher than the standard cross-section of females in the United States.

Lung worm

Though relatively rare, the symptoms of this parasite are so similar to viral and bacterial upper respiratory infection that patients are sometimes misdiagnosed. Upper respiratory infections are frequently treated with steroids, which could worsen the condition of a patient with lung worm.



Dr. Barkley managed, in a relatively short lecture, to present our audience with a broad range of knowledge. Although everyone in the room had experience with feline infectious disease in one capacity or another, the comprehensive presentation helped to illuminate the many complexities of how these diseases are spread, identified, and treated.

Her advice for fighting this never-ending reality is to prioritize parasite control, reduce environmental stress, protect the human-animal bond, and control wild roaming space as much as possible.


Dr. Barkley’s Recommended Resources

  1. Merck Veterinary Manual
  2. International Cat Care
  3. Companion Animal Parasite Council
  4. Cornell University Feline Health Center
  5. American Association of Feline Practitioners
  6. Ohio State University Indoor Pet Initiative
  7. UC Davis Shelter Medicine
  8. Your Veterinary Office!

This lecture was approved for 1 CE credit by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Examining Board.