Colibacillosis in Cats
Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. coli, is a bacterium that normally resides in the lower intestines of most warm blooded mammals, including cats. Normally, the presence of E. coli is benign, and even beneficial, but in some cases it can cause a diseased condition called colibacillosis.
E. coli infection is most commonly seen in kittens in the first weeks of life. In the first day after giving birth, queens produce a watery milk that is rich in antibodies. This milk, called colostrum, plays a pivotal role in protecting a newborn kitten's undeveloped immune system against various infections, as it coats the intestinal tract, protecting the kitten from most infections. In the absence of these antibodies, kittens are more vulnerable to a number of infections, including E. coli infection.
If the pregnant queen is infected with E. coli, the bacteria can also invade a kitten's blood supply while it is still in uterus, during birth, or the kitten can acquire the infection from feeding from its mother's inflamed mammary glands.
Colibacillosis often leads to a condition called septicemia, or blood poisoning, meaning there is an dangerously high presence of bacteria in the blood. Though primarily a disease of young cats, it can also affect older cats, though usually not as severely.
Symptoms and Types
Colibacillosis is sudden (acute) in nature and may cause following symptoms in affected kitten:
- Lack of appetite
- Rapid heart rate
- Watery diarrhea
- Cold skin due to low body temperature
- Bluish colored mucous membranes (i.e., gums, nostrils, lips, ears, anus) due to inadequate oxygen in red blood cells
Colibacillosis is ultimately due to an E. coli infection. However, risk factors for this type of infection include poor health and nutritional status of the pregnant queen, lack of colostrum (first milk) to the kitten, unclean birthing environment, difficult or prolonged birth, crowded facilities, concurrent infection/disease, inflammation of the mammary glands in the nursing queen, and placement of intravenous catheter.
Due to the acute onset of this disease, few abnormalities may be noted in blood testing. In order to see if E. coli, or any other infectious agents are present in the cat's blood, your veterinarian will take blood, urine, and if possible, fecal samples for culture.