Australia wants to kill my cats

I never had warm-blooded pets as a child. I had turtles that would escape and be found behind a sofa.

In 1985, my soon-to-be veterinarian first wife brought home two kittens from the vet clinic: I named them Clark and Kent.

I’ve gone through a lot of cats over the years.

During our 16-year marriage which created four skilled and tough daughters, my ex would castrate the males on the kitchen counter and remind me that I slept with her.

I didn’t fuck around.

Now that I’m in Brisbane, I went away for a weekend talk and came home to find two fur-expelling kittens that were indoor felines because we were in a townhouse. Now that we own our own property, they roam the grounds, chase away magpies, and occasionally bring a dead (or live) possum into the house.

Why doesn’t Australia focus on the rodent-evolved possums like the Kiwis do?

Jessica Camille Aguirre of The New York Times Magazine writes that present national Australian policy is, feral felines are driving the country’s native species to extinction. Now a massive culling is underway to preserve what’s left of the wild.

In the deep winter weeks of last July, Shane Morse and Kevin Figliomeni nearly always got up before the sun rose. They awoke next to the remains of a campfire or, occasionally, in a roadside motel, and in the darkness before dawn they began unloading poisoned sausage from their refrigerated truck. The sausage was for killing cats. One morning near the end of the season, Morse and Figliomeni left the Kalbarri Motor Hotel on the remote western coast of Australia, where they dined on steak and shellfish the night before, and drove along the squally coastline. They kept their eyes fixed to the sky. If it rained, there would be no baiting that day.

Morse and Figliomeni unpacked their boxes, filled with thousands of frozen sausages they produced at a factory south of Perth, according to a recipe developed by a man they jokingly called Dr. Death. It called for kangaroo meat, chicken fat and a mix of herbs and spices, along with a poison — called 1080 — derived from gastrolobium plants and highly lethal to animals, like cats, whose evolutionary paths did not require them to develop a tolerance to it. (The baits would also be lethal to other nonnative species, like foxes.) As the sun brightened the brume, the baits began to defrost. By midmorning, when Morse helped load them into a wooden crate inside a light twin-engine propeller Beechcraft Baron, they were burnished with a sheen of oil and emitted a stomach-turning fetor. The airplane shot down the runway and lifted over the gently undulating hills of the sand plains that abut the Indian Ocean.

Rising over the mantle of ghostlike smoke bushes that carpeted the ground to the treeless horizon, the plane traced a route over the landscape, its bombardier dropping 50 poisoned sausages every square kilometer. It banked over the deep cinnamon sandstone gorges carved by the Murchison River, which extends to the coastal delta, surveying the edge of one of earth’s driest, hottest continents, where two to six million feral cats roam. As it flew, it charted the kind of path it had done dozens of times before, carpeting thousands of hectares of land with soft fingers of meat, laying down nearly half a million baits in the course of one month. Dr. Death, whose real name is Dr. Dave Algar and who is the principal research scientist in the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions for the state of Western Australia, told me that he began developing the recipe for the poisoned sausages by examining cat food in supermarkets and observing which flavors most thrilled his own two cats. As Morse said: “They’ve got to taste good. They are the cat’s last meal.”

These fatal airdrops owed their existence to Australia’s national government, which decided in 2015 to try to kill two million feral cats by 2020, out of grave concern for the nation’s indigenous wildlife — in particular, groups of small, threatened rodent and marsupial species for which cats have become a deadly predator. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology estimated that 211,560 cats were killed during the first 12 months after the plan was announced. Dropping lethal sausages from the sky is only part of the country’s efforts to eradicate feral cats, which also include trapping, shooting and devising all manner of poison-delivery vessels.

When the policy was announced, it was met in some quarters with apoplexy. More than 160,000 signatures appeared on half a dozen online petitions entreating Australia to spare the cats. Brigitte Bardot wrote a letter — in English, but with an unmistakably French cadence — beseeching the environment minister to stop what she called animal genocide. The singer Morrissey, formerly of the Smiths, lamented that “idiots rule the earth” and said the plan was akin to killing two million miniature Cecil the Lions. Despite anger from some animal rights groups and worries about the potential effects on pet cats, Australia went ahead with its plan, and the threatened-species commissioner replied by mail to both Bardot and Morrissey, politely describing the “delightful creatures” already lost to the world.

After that, Morse and Figliomeni spent much of each baiting season behind the wheel of their rig, hauling boxes to the most remote corners of one of the least populated places in the world, to beat back what Australia has deemed an invasive pest. As is the case on islands around the world, the direction of life in Australia took a distinctly different route than that on the larger continents, and unlike places like North America, the country has no native cat species. Over millions of years of isolation, Australia’s native beasts became accustomed to a different predatory order, so while cats aren’t necessarily more prevalent there than anywhere else, their presence is more ruinous. They have also become nearly ubiquitous: According to the estimates of local conservationists, feral cats have established a permanent foothold across 99.8 percent of the country, with their density reaching up to 100 per square kilometer in some areas. Even places nearly devoid of human settlement, like the remote and craggy Kimberley region, have been found to harbor cats that hunt native animals. The control effort, to which Western Australia’s baiting program belongs, was meant to ease the predation pressure that cats exerted in every corner of the country where they had settled. Faced with a choice between a species regarded as a precious pet and the many small creatures of their unique land, Australians seemed to have decided that guarding the remaining wild might mean they would have to spill some blood.

BTW, Ted Nugent sucks.

Cat’s in the cream, NZ

About 15 years ago, some Aussie researchers, using motion-activated video cameras, found that however well-behaved cats were during the day, as soon as everyone went to sleep, it was party time, and the cats were everywhere.

In a story about how needles get into food and diagnosed – there’s been lotsa cases in Australia and NZ of late – the fun part is how New Zealand ERS scientists use their food forensics lab to track things down and in one case it was, again, cats (and happy 26th to this kid, who always loved — and sometimes tortured — her cats).

One complaint involving hair came from a milk company, which was continually finding ginger hairs in its on-line filter.

“We identified it as coming from a cat, so you get this image of the cat waiting until night time and jumping into the vat,” said scientist Darren Saunders.

“Literally, the cat that got the cream.”

Salmonella skyrockets in Swedish cats

In just two months, salmonella infection has been detected in 1,007 cats in Sweden. Never before have so many cases been discovered even for a whole year.

It is the Danish Veterinary Office, SVA, which reports the compilation of the number of infected cats. The Salmonella Mite is suspected to come from birds and the cats are infected at the birdboards.

Frecrik Israelsson of SVT reports this year differs from previous years in two ways; partly because the observed cases are so many, partly because the proportion of salmonella positive samples is so high among the suspected samples we get. Now, however, the culmination seems to be reached for this contagion season, “said Elina Lahti, epidemiologist SVA, according to SVA’s website.

Even humans and other animals can be infected with salmonella and SVA encourages those who have had contact with sick cats and birds to wash their hands. Even when handling bird tables and litter boxes, hand washing is important, according to SVA.

Questions: Why do dogs eat poop?

Every dog I’ve ever owned has liked to eat poop.

Even the current one, Ted, the Cavalier master of indifference, loves nothing more than going outside and chowing down on some cat or possum poop.

Saryn Chorney of People Pets writes, it’s a topic that has long perplexed animal researchers and veterinarians. And if you Google the topic, you’re likely to get more than a dozen different explanations ranging from canine anxiety to illness to simply boredom.

(Boredom explains many of life’s ills, human or dog or cat.)

However, a new study led by veterinarian Benjamin Hart, director of the Center for Animal Behavior at the University of California at Davis, has managed to link the off-putting behavior to “greedy eating” (dogs that quickly ravish their food bowls, according to owners) as well as an instinct connected to canines’ ancestral wolf pack days.

Hart and his team surveyed over 3,000 dog owners. Of these subjects, 16 percent ate other dogs’ feces “frequently” (their owners had witnessed a crappy chow down session at least six times), and of those pups, 80 percent preferred fresh feces less than two days old. Who doesn’t?

Interestingly, the research suggested that the tendency towards coprophagia (the scientific term for poop-eating) was evident no matter a dog’s age, breed, diet, house-training status or compulsive behavior tendency. This finding has unleashed a new theory: Modern day dogs have inherited both their aversion to pooping where they live as well as their likelihood to eat fresh poop from their ancient wolf ancestors.

Back in those wild days, wolves may’ve eaten the fresh feces of sick, lame or old members who accidentally let a load loose as a way to clean up inside and around their den. Since it takes about two days for parasites and other pathogens to develop, eating fresh poop is not usually dangerous, and in fact, eating poop that was festering in their living quarters was actually a helpful way to avoid intestinal parasites such as larvae and worms.

That said, some great minds in the canine scientific community think there may be a bit more to it. For instance, Professor James Serpell of the University of Pennsylvania and editor of the recent book The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior and Interactions with People, told the Washington Post he finds the wolf theory “plausible,” but he’s also intrigued by the “greedy eaters” survey findings. He referenced a study of free-roaming wild dogs in developing countries that scavenge for food and, as a result, fill up on a sizable amount of human feces. This seems to indicate that poop could be viewed, errr digested, as a second-hand food source.

Today, dogs (and cats) “are fed diets that are relatively rich in fats and protein, not all of which may be completely digested, making their feces potentially attractive as a second hand food source,” Serpell told the Washington Post.

So, there you have it. Poop-eating is probably a normal, evolutionary dog trait.

I buy the greedy eaters theory: Ted the wonder dog was the runt of the litter, raised outside, and 2 years later, still eats by retrieving a piece of kibble and taking it to the couch or bed to chow down.

But that’s an anecdotal observation, not science.

Vets test for deadly cat virus in Queensland after multiple deaths

My science writing career started with cats.

(The two black ones made it to Kasnas, the other one, Lucky, wasn’t so lucky)

My parents didn’t allow warm-blooded mammals in the house, just Salmonella-ridden turtles, so when my ex brought me 2 kittens from the vet clinic where she was a student, it still stands out as the nicest thing she ever did for me.

I wrote about cat behaviour, weekly, because I was fascinated and thought everyone else would be.

Maybe not, but I was editor-in-chief the next year, because of no bullshit and cats.

The ex wrote a book no one read except my former hockey team mates in which she stated the only thing I was good for was throwing off good-looking daughters.

Duh.

And people wonder why I have angst.

Calicivirus is when I got turned on to leaning.

A fourth-year virology class, we kids had to go do an independent project, and I chose Calicivirus.

Just woke me up to all the things that were available to learn, other than cats.

The Courier-Mail reports urgent testing is underway to determine the cause of death of a number of cats in south-east Queensland in the past month, with vets suspecting a particular strain of virus to be responsible.

In recent weeks there have been possibly 14 cases of Feline Calicivirus-Virulent Systemic Disease, or Virulent Calicivirus, reported in Queensland.Of those 14 cases – all but one have come from the Ipswich area, west of Brisbane.

Australian Small Animal Veterinarians President Dr Mark Kelman said laboratory testing was underway in Sydney.

“At this stage we’re not 100 per cent sure it’s this cat virus that’s going on. It’s still early days,” Dr Kelman said.

“It’s highly suspicious that it may be what we call Feline Calicivirus-Virulent Systemic Disease … it’s not common at all.

“If it is that it’s a variant of a fairly common virus which is the Feline Calicivirus but this particular strain causes more severe disease in cats and certainly can be fatal.”

Dr Kelman said he hoped to have a definitive answer within the next week.

Swollen legs a concerning symptom for cats

Three cats from the Ipswich area have died and others have been euthanised because of the severity of their symptoms, Dr Kelman said.

We’re all hosts on a viral planet.

Plague in domestic cats — Idaho, 2016

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in May 2015, Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, was identified in dead Piute ground squirrels (Urocitellus mollis) reported through the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s wildlife mortality monitoring program; in June 2015, the Idaho Division of Public Health (DPH) sent an advisory to veterinarians in four southwestern Idaho counties requesting that they notify their local public health officials of suspected plague in animals.* Y. pestis was not confirmed in any pets during 2015.

yersinia-pestisDuring May 30–July 26, 2016, local veterinarians notified public health officials that five dogs and 12 cats were being evaluated for possible plague. Local veterinarians also performed necropsies, when applicable, to establish the diagnosis. Idaho’s Central District Health Department and Eastern Idaho Public Health coordinated with DPH on submission of specimens to the DPH Bureau of Laboratories for Y. pestis testing and interviewed veterinary staff and pet owners. Specimens from blood, spleen, liver, and lymph nodes were screened using real–time polymerase chain reaction and confirmed by culture and phage lysis testing.

sorenne-cats-aug-15Among evaluated animals, Y. pestis was isolated from six of 12 cats; five of the six were from areas in southwestern Idaho where dead ground squirrels with confirmed Y. pestis had been reported in May 2016, and one was from from eastern Idaho. Among these six cats, specimen collection occurred during May 31–July 12, 2016; cats ranged in age from 10 months to 14.5 years (median = 4 years), four (67%) were male, five (83%) resided both indoors and outdoors, and one resided outdoor only. All six cats were domestic shorthair breed and had been neutered or spayed. Fever and lymphadenopathy (n = 4, 67%) were the most commonly reported signs of illness. None of the cats had known pulmonary involvement. Three of the six cats were treated with appropriate antibiotics (1); of these, two survived and one was euthanatized. The three other cats had died or had been euthanatized. All six cats reportedly had contact with ground squirrels and other wild rodents or rabbits before becoming ill; one had flea control administered before illness onset.

Cat owners, their household members, and veterinary staff were advised to be alert for fever and other plague symptoms (2) in themselves and other pets that might have had contact with the ill cats. Veterinary staff members were reminded about methods to prevent occupational exposure when managing pets suspected of having plague (1). In June 2016, an updated plague advisory was sent to veterinarians in four southwestern Idaho counties and eight eastern Idaho counties. Local public health districts used the Idaho Health Alert Network to enhance situational awareness among health care providers and issue guidance on management and reporting of plague cases. Public communication strategies to raise awareness about the risk for and prevention of Y. pestistransmission to persons and pets included an online map of plague-affected areas, warnings posted in affected public areas, and press releases advising residents about preventive measures. No human plague cases were reported.

Cat-associated human plague cases, including fatalities, have been reported in the western United States since 1977 (3). Compared with dogs, cats are highly susceptible to plague illness and can transmit disease to humans directly through exposure to respiratory droplets and infectious body fluids associated with bites or scratches (1). Cats could also carry infected fleas into households. Y. pestis–infected cats usually develop fever, anorexia, lethargy, and lymphadenitis (submandibular in approximately 75% of cases); approximately 10% of cases are pneumonic (4) and present the most risk to pet owners and veterinary staff members. During 1926–2012, six (43%) of all primary pneumonic cases of human plague that occurred in the United States had contact with domestic cats (5). No plague vaccine for pets is available.

Veterinarians should consider the diagnosis of plague in pets, including cats, with compatible signs and exposure to rodent habitats, rodents, or ill pets in areas where plague is endemic or epizootic. Suspicion of plague should trigger the following actions by veterinary staff: 1) implementation of personal protective measures, including wearing masks and gloves; 2) isolation of the ill pet; 3) assessment of pulmonary involvement; 4) initiation of diagnostic testing for Y. pestis; 5) prompt administration of antibiotic therapy; 6) implementation of flea control for affected animals and the hospital environment; 7) provision of advice on household flea control to pet owner; and 8) notification of public health officials (1). Pet owners can reduce the risk for plague in pets by controlling pet roaming, implementing a flea control program, and minimizing rodent habitats and food sources inside and outside the home. Additional information on prevention of plague is available at http://www.cdc.gov/plague/prevention/index.html.

Nasty women? Cat poop used to protect Trump sign from theft

Kathy Bressler of Monroe, MI, is passionate about two things: Donald Trump and her 10 cats.

braunwynn-hockeyBressler has never put up political signs before but because of her support for Trump, she has several signs and buttons, and volunteers for the local Republican party a couple of days a week.

So, when someone stole Trump signs from her yard, so she decided to make a stink about it – literally. Bressler combined her love of cats and country and “poopy trapped” her Trump signs.

court-hockey“My First Amendment rights are being violated,” Bressler said. “SO, I thought, gee, it’s not a pleasant idea if someone would happen to happen to step into the used cat litter that I’ve been sprinkling around my Trump signs. So, I thought that might be a good deterrent.”

Cats: Harbinger of parasites and schizophrenia

Pregnant women are advised to avoid many things, including alcohol, smoking and even their cat’s litter box (what about the refrigerated ready-to-eat foods?). More than 90% of obstetricians and gynecologists in the United States caution patients about handling cat litter during pregnancy, according to a recent survey.

amy.pregnant.catThe reason? A parasite lurking in the pets’ poop.

Cats can shed a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii in their feces, and if a pregnant woman accidentally inhales or eats the parasite and becomes infected, there are serious health risks. In 20% to 50% of cases (PDF), the fetus also becomes infected.

Only a very small number of cats are estimated to be shedding these parasites at any time — about 1%, by some estimates — but if a woman is infected within her first trimester, it could lead to microcephaly and other birth defects, as well as an increased risk of mental disability and blindness later in the child’s life.

People with weakened immune systems, such as those who have HIV or are undergoing chemotherapy, can develop neurological problems including headaches and seizures from the infection.

jauques.fierce.jun.16Other than the groups who were at greater risk, experts had generally thought toxoplasma, or toxo, was of little consequence. But that view started to change in the past decade as reports claimed that the parasite could influence a person’s behavior and even increase the risk of schizophrenia.

Once a person is infected, toxo lies dormant in their body throughout their life. A recent study found between 10% and 15% of people in the United States to be latently infected with the parasite.

“The consequences of infection with toxo not during pregnancy is all new and not well understood,” said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist at the Stanley Medical Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports research on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

There have been so many new studies into the link between toxo infection and schizophrenia that Torrey created a web page to keep track of them all. “I’m adding studies almost every month,” he said.

In a 2007 review, Torrey found that people with schizophrenia were 2.7 times more likely to have antibodies against the parasite — which indicate that someone has been infected — than healthy people. This increase in risk would mean that the rate of schizophrenia would increase from 1 in 100 in the general adult population in the United States to 2.7 in 100 among people who have a toxo infection.

A large study by Torrey and his colleagues found that adults who had schizophrenia were more likely to have grown up in homes that had cats, compared with healthy controls. Parents of young children may therefore want to be careful about bringing a new cat into the home.

Despite the evidence found to date, it is still not possible to say whether toxo infections cause these illnesses, said William Sullivan, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, microbiology and immunology at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Research has merely suggested that people with psychiatric disorders happen to be more likely to have been exposed to toxo. “Correlation plus correlation plus correlation does not equal causation,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan suspects that toxo is not enough on its own to bring on the illness and that another, as yet unknown, risk factor could also be involved.

A good way to find out whether toxo truly causes mental health disorders and changes in behavior would be to give people with schizophrenia a drug that clears their dormant toxo infection and see whether their symptoms improve, Sullivan said. But no such drug exists.

According to Sullivan, there are other ways to become infected with toxo, including eating raw meat, which can harbor the parasite, and gardening or working with soil, where toxo can survive for several years.

A study by Torrey found that there can be 100 toxo spores, or oocysts, under a gardener’s fingernail. Those with a green thumb can take protective steps, such as wearing gloves and a face mask.

People can also become infected by eating the raw meat of animals harboring the parasite. To prevent this, Sullivan advises that people make sure to cook meat thoroughly or else to freeze the meat before eating it.