My cats are going lame and then dying. What’s happening?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I live in the bush in South Africa and we take in a lot of abandoned cats. This year, I have had a few cats suddenly going lame in a paw overnight or even becoming totally paralyzed, then dying within 24 hours with renal failure-like symtoms if we dont get them to a vet in time. When we get the cats to the vet, they just get put down. What is causing this? We can’t take the heartbreak anymore and my husband is saying no more animals after all have passed on.

~ Carina

Siouxsie: Well, Carina, if we had to hazard a guess based on your description, we’d say you may be dealing with bites from venomous critters. And here’s why.

Thomas: We’ve done a little bit of research and we’ve found that there are a number of venomous spiders in South Africa, not to mention scorpions, poisonous snakes and lizards, and other potentially toxic critters like bees and ants.

Dahlia: While most of these insects present minimal risks to healthy adult humans, a few of these can be a lot more toxic to the young and the elderly.

Siouxsie: Keep in mind that your cat weighs about as much as a newborn human infant, and that cats are much more sensitive to certain types of chemicals than humans or other creatures.

Thomas: There are two major types of poisons produced by venomous spiders: neurotoxic and cytotoxic.

Dahlia: Neurotoxic poisons cause damage to the nervous system and brain. They can produce symptoms like paralysis, drooling, seizures, and staggering gait.

Siouxsie: Cytotoxic poisons damage the cells of the body, causing swelling of the bitten area, necrotic sores, systemic infection, and sometimes in severe cases of poisoning, organ failure (such as acute renal failure).

Thomas: Various species of venomous snakes also produce neurotoxic and cytotoxic poisons, as well as a type of poison that produces massive internal bleeding.

Dahlia: The only way you’ll ever really know what’s been killing your cats is to have a necropsy done. This could reveal what type of venom was at work — or if there is some other cause for your cats’ deaths such as bacterial infections.

Siouxsie: So what can you do to prevent further heartbreak? Since you can’t keep poisonous critters away from your land, the next best thing to do is keep your cats indoors — or at the very least, in outdoor enclosures in an area where you can control their potential exposure to venomous visitors.

Thomas: If your cats are indoor-only kitties and they’re having these symptoms, you might want to consult with a pest control expert to see if poisonous insects are finding a way to get into your home and what you can do about it.

Dahlia: We’d also recommend that you talk with your vet and ask him or her what they think happened to your cats. Also, ask about poisonous creatures in your area and see if your vet has a list of symptoms of bites. Maybe if you see the symptoms early enough, you’ll be able to get a cat to the vet in time to save its life.

Siouxsie: Also ask your vet about first aid. If they have information about what you should do if you suspect your cat has been bitten, you’ll be able to take action — and again, maybe slow the progress of the poison enough that a trip to the vet will have a better outcome than euthanasia.

Thomas: We don’t think this means you should never have cats again. But we do think it would be wise to make sure your cats stay indoors only and be vigilant for potentially venomous creatures in your home.

Dahlia: Wherever in the world you live, you’re quite likely to have poisonous snakes, insects, spiders, or reptiles and amphibians in your area. We recommend that all of our readers know what venomous critters live in their area, what the symptoms of poisoning look like in a cat, and what they should do for first aid.

Siouxsie: So, Carina, we hope this helps a little bit. And we’re very sorry about your cats, too.

Thomas: It’s never easy to lose a beloved animal companion, especially when you don’t really know what happened.

Dahlia: You, your husband, and your other kitties are in our thoughts and purrs.

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