Monday, January 23, 2012


Well, the subject of feral cats sure stimulated an outburst of comments from some readers who obviously feel strongly about the topic.  Helpful Buckeye also received numerous e-mails asking about concerns for humans possibly contracting diseases being spread by these feral cats.  Those concerns will be addressed in this week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats

We left off last week with some of the problems feral cats face as they fend for themselves in the wild.  Let's say that some or many of these cats are also being exposed to certain zoonotic diseases as they make their way through their territory each day.  You'll recall that a zoonotic disease is one than can be transmitted from an animal to a human.  The list of these diseases is quite long, but the most common of these from cats and dogs are intestinal parasites, ringworm, scabies, plague (from fleas), Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Babesiosis (all from ticks), and rabies.  Other serious concerns would be the bacterial infections that result from scratches and/or bite wounds that people receive when trying to handle feral cats.  For the moment, let's leave these diseases for an overview of other animal-related diseases that might be of a concern to humans:

Animal-Related Diseases Concern Scientists

Health researchers and wildlife biologists say the number of infectious diseases that have jumped the boundary from animals to humans and between animal species is on the rise. Scientists believe the increase may be a result of more frequent contact between humans and wild animals, as well as the growing trade in wild animals, both legal and illegal.

Towards the end of the 1990s, several Asian countries lived one of their worst health nightmares. A new, highly pathogenic, strain of Avian Influenza known as H5N1 killed hundreds of people. Over the next years, more than 9-million chickens were destroyed in an effort to stem the epidemic. Scientists believe the H5N1 virus was transmitted from wild birds to domestic poultry and pigs, which then passed it to humans. H5N1 is just the latest of various influenza strains that have killed up to 100 million people over the last century.

Now scientists are concerned about the appearance of new illnesses. Jonathan Sleeman is the director of the National Wildlife Health Center at the U.S. Geological Survey.  "Human health, wildlife health and domestic animal health are all interconnected within the context of the environment," said Sleeman. "And environmental changes and changes in environmental quality will have negative impacts in all 3 groups."

Experts say there are many causes: the increasingly rapid movement of people and animals around the world, increasing human contact with and consumption of wildlife, and the legal and illegal trade in wild animals.  "It's no longer a wildlife conservation issue, it's no longer a separate human issue. It's a combination. It's both a conservation and human health issue," added  Sleeman.

Scientists from a variety of disciplines met recently in Washington to share their concerns about pathogens spreading from animals to humans.  It's not a new problem. The AIDS virus, HIV, is now known to have originated from a similar virus in African chimpanzees. An estimated 30-million people have died of AIDS since the early 1980s. Other human diseases with animal origins include SARS, Ebola hemorrhagic fever and West Nile encephalitis.

New animal illnesses generally originate in invasive species. Zebra mussels that have spread throughout the U.S. Great Lake introduced a type of botulism that has killed some 100,000 birds in the last decade. A fungus spread by the trade in amphibians has led to the extinction of about 120 species of frogs around the world.  Many other imported, exotic animals escape or are released into local ecosystems. They disrupt native ecologies, out-compete native species and potentially spread new diseases.

Jonathan Epstein, with the EcoHealth Alliance, says 13 million animals have been confiscated in the past few decades, as part of the illegal trade in exotic species.  "The global illegal wildlife trade is second only to the trade in narcotics and weapons," said Epstein. "Just between 2000 and 2006, we had about 1.5 billion animals imported into the U.S."

Experts say more attention must be paid to the human disruption of wildlife and ecosystems to avoid the emergence of other infectious diseases with deeper and even more severe consequences.

Adapted from: 

You can see that this is a problem with a much larger scope than just here in the USA, due the global nature of travel and communication.  However, right here is where we live and there seems to be a huge demand for the importation of exotic species, in addition to the more common animals that also arrive:

Wildlife trade bringing viruses to U.S.

A study has found evidence of retroviruses in illegally imported wildlife and animal products seized at several U.S. international airports, researchers say.  The study led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clearly demonstrates potential human health risks from the illegal wildlife trade at major international travel hubs, a release from the American Museum of Natural History said Tuesday.

The global trade in wildlife has contributed to the emergence of new diseases in livestock, native wildlife and humans as international travel creates a pathway to disease emergence in animals and humans, researchers said.  "The increase in international travel and trade brings with it an increased risk of unmonitored pathogens via the illegal wildlife trade," said Denise McAloose, chief pathologist for the Global Health Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

In addition to animals, illegally imported bushmeat was monitored in the study.  "Exotic wildlife pets and bushmeat are Trojan horses that threaten humankind at sites where they are collected in the developing world as well as the United States," W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia said.  "Our study underscores the importance of surveillance at ports, but we must also encourage efforts to reduce demand for products that drive the wildlife trade."

Adapted from:

So, what do we do?  Much of this activity will require global attention to stricter regulations on the transporting of any animal species.  Then, here at home, we need to be more aware not only of the problem with feral animals, but also how we can live in proximity with them and not be picking up something contagious to us.  Let's use the example of a species that, although wild, has become quite common in every state of continental USA and actually seems to thrive in close proximity to humans...yes, the coyote:

Teaching People and Coyotes How to Peacefully Coexist

Unique program saves coyotes' lives by re-instilling their natural fear of people

The Humane Society of the United States is reaching out to animal control officers, law enforcement agencies, and community animal advocates from around the country, offering special training on how to deal with conflicts involving one of America’s hardiest wild creatures: coyotes.

Lynsey White Dasher, Urban Wildlife Specialist with The HSUS, has been teaching classes on the latest methods to reduce suburban conflicts with coyotes. Coyote-human conflicts have increased, White Dasher said, because the wild creatures “have learned that people are not a source of danger.”

White Dasher teaches people how to "haze" coyotes, by making noise, shining bright lights, spraying water, and generally acting unpredictable. It might seem a little odd, but it's the compassionate way to prevent coyotes from being killed. Some municipalities trap and kill coyotes who hang around neighborhoods. But that doesn’t reduce the coyote population, and it doesn’t solve the problem.  “We want to teach them to be afraid of people, as they naturally should be,” White Dasher said.

Re-educating coyotes—and people

White Dasher presented the latest research and techniques at the International Urban and Wildlife Management and Planning Conference in Austin, Texas. Later, at the Animal Care Expo in Orlando, White Dasher and Ashley DeLaup, wildlife ecologist for the City and County of Denver, Colorado, trained about 30 animal advocates and animal control officers from around the country on how to best haze wild coyotes.  “I think that hearing about successful coyote hazing programs encourages them to try it out in their own communities,” White Dasher said.

DeLaup developed a successful coyote hazing program for community residents in Denver after coyotes preyed on people’s pets. The HSUS has helped develop a similar program in Wheaton, Illinois, outside Chicago.

"Go away coyote!"

Blowing whistles, yelling, and making sudden movements around coyotes is “a way of marking our territory, which is something coyotes understand,” says DeLaup.  “The more we make them think we are unpredictable, the more they want to stay away,” DeLaup says. “If I go out and scare a coyote and then a second person scares a coyote, once the third time comes, the coyote thinks: You know what? I don’t want to stay around here.”

White Dasher adds, “When you teach one coyote in a family group, he or she will pass that information on to other members of a family group.”

Adapted from:

Of all the diseases we've mentioned that are frequently associated with feral and wild animals in the USA, the worst by far, of course, is rabies.  Let's review:

The State of Rabies: Treating a Disease That Often Leads to Death

The archetypal zoonotic disease, rabies can spread between animals and humans as it has the ability to infect -- and kill -- all mammals.

By Larry Madoff

When my father was a boy, in the 1930s, living in Clinton, Massachusetts, he was attacked and bitten by a dog in the woods near his home. The animal was never found and, rabies being so prevalent among feral dogs at the time, he was forced to undergo preventive treatment for the disease. In the late 19th century, Louis Pasteur, the French scientist, devised a strategy to immunize against rabies by progressively attenuating a virus by successive passage through rabbit spinal cords. The "Pasteur Treatment" involved injections of up to 25 doses of this crudely purified vaccine, three on the first day and then one per day over the next three weeks into the abdominal wall. The idea is to develop immunity -- antibodies to the virus -- before the virus has a chance to invade the central nervous system. Throughout his life, my father recalled the horror of the treatment -- even more than that of the dog bite.

Painful as it was, the treatment may well have saved him from the gruesome fate of rabies. We learned last week that a man in Massachusetts had been diagnosed with rabies. Believed to be the first case acquired in the state since 1935, the man is in critical condition, indicating that he is already manifesting the disease. Sadly, at this stage, rabies most often leads inexorably to death.

It is bats that have become the problem for humans in the U.S., accounting for more than two-thirds of rabies cases.

The disease has become rare in this country, with no more than a handful of cases occurring throughout the U.S. in a given year. (Worldwide, however, rabies is common. Estimates put the number of cases between 55,000 and 70,000, nearly all from the bites of rabid dogs.) Rabies can begin insidiously, anywhere from a week to many months after the bite of a rabid animal. Agitation, fever, restlessness, irritability, and increased sensation at the site of the bite may be the initial symptoms. Delirium often ensues. Classic hydrophobia, when it develops, is startling. Initially manifested as the inability to swallow liquids, it progresses to the point that merely the sight of liquid can cause gagging and laryngeal spasm. This finding is so classically associated with rabies, in animals as well as people, that the words hydrophobia and rabies were once synonymous.

Wild swings in pulse and blood pressure follow (as the autonomic nervous system becomes affected), waning of consciousness, and finally seizures and respiratory arrest, with most of those affected dying within a week of contracting the illness. Historically, survival from rabies infection has been extremely rare. A recent approach pioneered in Wisconsin in 2004 appears to have led to a handful of survivors, but the prognosis remains grim.

Rabies is perhaps the archetypal zoonotic disease, one spread between animals and humans. It has an extremely broad host range, with the ability to infect all mammals. The ancients understood that when a mad dog bit another dog, it too became mad. Canine rabies remains a huge problem around the world, but in the U.S., where vaccination of dogs against rabies has become nearly universal, other species have become more important in spreading rabies. Skunks, foxes, and raccoons are all important to the rabies problem in various parts of the U.S., in addition to bats.

While rabies is transmissible between any species, most transmission occurs within the species -- bat to bat, raccoon to raccoon -- and the virus adapts slightly to its host. That means each virus carries a signature in its genetic sequence indicating the species and geographic location of the "donor." In one recent case, we were surprised to learn that a patient had died of infection by a rabies virus whose genetic signature indicated that it originated in a South American dog, though he was reported not to have been in that region for many years. It remains mysterious whether we were missing some history of a more-recent visit there, or the incubation period was unusually long.

But it is bats that have become the problem for humans in the U.S., accounting for more than two-thirds of rabies cases. That doesn't mean they should be eradicated, of course: Bats are too important to the ecosystem to think of as disease-spreading pests. Their insectivorous diet makes them vital to reducing the burden of disease-transmitting mosquitoes. Nonetheless, keeping bats out of our homes, particularly our sleeping quarters, is a key public health measure in reducing human rabies. Bats have small, very sharp teeth and a sleeping victim may simply be unaware that a bite has occurred. For that reason, we counsel people to get prophylaxis if they wake up in a room where a bat is found, whether or not they are aware of a bite.

With a disease so horrible, and treatment problematic, prevention is the mainstay of public health. More effective and tolerable post-exposure prophylaxis also began to appear in the past few decades. Now, instead of the 25 abdominal shots my father endured, we offer a single dose of antiserum (infused around the wound or given intramuscularly) and four doses of a much safer rabies vaccine given over a two-week period. This is almost completely successful in preventing the disease when given within a reasonable time after exposure. (With domestic animals, we can even observe the biting animal for signs of rabies; if none manifest within ten days, the animal is deemed free of the disease and prophylaxis can be avoided.) There are problems with this approach, however: it is very expensive, and in many parts of the world, where rabies is prevalent, it is simply not available. The fact of so few cases here, and the easy availability of prophylaxis, means we are lucky. While working on better treatments, we should work on ways of vaccinating dogs and lowering the cost of prevention in the rest of the world, in addition to providing better education about the dangers of rabies in feral and wild animals.

Adapted from: 

Now, do you think you'll be more careful the next time you encounter an unknown cat or dog that has no sign of being someone's pet?  Helpful Buckeye sure hopes so.  A couple of recent episodes of possible exposure to rabies underscore the fact that the disease is out there:

There's always a risk for rabies

This past December, two kittens tested positive for rabies in southeastern Minnesota. This is a good reminder that rabies is always a risk, even in this area, and even in something as cute and innocent as a young kitten.

Rabies is fatal. There is, for all intents and purposes, no cure. Post-exposure prophylaxis (a series of vaccines) can be successful in preventing rabies in exposed humans, if performed in time.

The most common species of wildlife to contract rabies in Minnesota are bats and skunks. Animals unlikely to transmit or die of rabies include squirrels, rabbits, mice, rats, and other small rodents.

Infected skunks and bats transmit the rabies virus in their saliva, usually through a bite wound. Bat bites often go undetected because of the small size of bat teeth.

Capture for testing

If physical contact with a bat is suspected or known, the bat should be captured and tested for rabies.  To be safe, exposure should be assumed if a dead or live bat is found in a home where access to sleeping individuals or unattended children is possible.  Be careful not to risk further exposure when capturing the bat for rabies testing. Use a firm container with a well-fitting lid. Do not use a pillowcase, towel or other fabric item that a bat could potentially bite through.  Wear leather gloves at all times when dealing with the bat. Approach the bat carefully and place the container over it. Then slide the cover underneath and firmly secure with tape.  The bat should be refrigerated but not frozen. A frozen sample cannot be tested for rabies. Contact your veterinarian to arrange submission of the sample for testing.

Signs and symptoms

Signs of rabies disease are neurological in nature. Nocturnal wild animals may be spotted wandering about during the day. Dogs that used to be aggressive may act docile. Friendly dogs may become jumpy and agitated.  Cats tend to become aggressive. Cattle may vocalize, and develop walking and swallowing difficulties.

Never attempt to handle or catch an injured animal, whether it’s a wild animal or a stray pet.

When someone gets bitten by a pet, wash the site immediately with soap and water to reduce risk of contamination. If possible, contact the pet owner to determine if the animal’s rabies vaccination is up to date.  Contact animal control for further instructions, which can vary widely depending on the pet’s rabies vaccine status. Bring the bite victim to the attention of a doctor to discuss further care.

If someone gets bitten by a wild animal, it should be captured if possible, then euthanized and tested for rabies. If your pet gets bitten by a wild animal, contact your veterinarian and/or animal control officer for further instructions.

Vaccination against rabies is vital for dogs, cats and ferrets. Vaccinated pets prevent the spread of this fatal disease between wildlife and people.

Teach children to never approach an unfamiliar or wild animal. Coach them to confide immediately in an adult if they ever get bitten.

Stray pets should always be reported to the local Animal Control, as well as wild animals exhibiting odd behavior.

Bat-proof your home, prevent garbage raiding by wildlife, and don’t keep wild animals as pets.

Adapted from:

...and this scary episode that actually occurred last week in my hometown back in Pennsylvania:

Man, Dog Being Treated For Possible Rabies Exposure After Coyote Attack

James Kozusko said he was walking his 7-year-old German shepherd named Smokey behind the Hillview Bowling Lanes, in Greensburg, PA, on Jan. 12 when the incident happened.  Kozusko said his dog locked eyes with a prowling 50-pound coyote and attacked.  "Down over the hill it went, Smokey right on his tail, and then I heard it all break loose down there," said Kozusko.

Kozusko said he wiped some blood off of his dog, which is why he, too, is being treated for rabies.

Pennsylvania Game Commission officials said there is a healthy population of coyotes in Western Pennsylvania. Officials said, however, coyote attacks are rare and usually the coyote survives.

Kozusko said he wants people to be aware of what happened so they can be careful.

Adapted from:

If you've been with us for these two issues on feral cats, you now are aware that this is a multifaceted problem.  The animals themselves are constantly in danger of being injured or becoming sick with some type of contagious disease.  Pets that come in contact with anything that is feral are also at risk.  And, finally, humans can experience the threat of zoonotic diseases.  Therefore, ultimately, a more satisfactory approach must be found than what is currently being used.

Any comments about this topic can be sent to Helpful Buckeye at: dogcatvethelp@gmail  or registered at the end on of this issue under "submit comments."

The New England Patriots eliminated the Ravens from the playoffs, which made Helpful Buckeye a little happier.  The hated rivals of the Steelers played a pretty decent game but it was good to see them lose.  Then, the NY Giants upset the 49ers in overtime to make Helpful Buckeye even happier.  It should be a great Super Bowl in 2 weeks.

Ohio State's basketball team is tied for the Big 10 lead and remains in the Top 5 in the rankings.


Desperado completed her first trail hike in more than a year this past week down in Sedona.  Not only were we thrilled that she could do the hike with no ill aftereffects, but also we found a new favorite Sedona hike, the Cibola Pass Trail.  In addition to some striking red rock formations, we also came upon an immense sink hole that was about 100 ft. wide and 100 ft. deep.  What a sight!  Now that Desperado has re-earned her hiking merit badge, we'll be hitting the trail with gusto this year.

Helpful Buckeye celebrated Desperado's hiking accomplishment by making one of his specialties...Ruby Tuesday's White Chicken Chili.  A great combination!

Desperado and Helpful Buckeye took part in a birthday celebration for one of our friends this really did cap off a very good week for all of us.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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