Hoof and Mouth Disease is a highly contagious animal disease sometimes known as Foot and Mouth Disease. Livestock with cloven hooves like cattle, goats, sheep and pigs are susceptible to the disease. Horses, however, are not. If you are a cat owner, you do not have to worry about your feline's catching the virus because domestic animals like dogs and cats are immune to it. However, pets and people alike can help to spread it. Even though the names are similar, the disease is not the same as Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD), which affects people, especially children.
Cats as Carriers of Hoof and Mouth Disease
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Hoof and Mouth Disease is viral, meaning it is airborne, and can be easily and quickly spread among a herd of animals through inhalation, wind, direct contact, ingestion and reproduction. It can be spread through common equipment, shared food and water, and from pets like cats, as well as people. The virus is able to live for an extended time, ranging from about one month on hair and three months on clothing and equipment to up to a year or even longer in infected areas. Cats can unintentionally help to spread the virus by catching an infected rat, for example, and bringing it back to a location nearby animals that are susceptible to the disease. People can also transmit the disease from their clothing or through handling of exposed animals.
While your cat cannot become stricken with Hoof and Mouth Disease, it can become ill from a different type of virus with similar symptoms. Typical signs of Hoof and Mouth Disease and other viruses may include a loss of appetite, lethargy, nasal discharge, drooling, lameness and blisters around the mouth or hoof/foot areas. Exposure typically results in symptoms following an incubation period of a few days to a week. If your cat experiences these symptoms, there are many diseases with similar signs that warrant a visit to the vet.
Severity of Hoof and Mouth Disease
Your cat can be a carrier of Hoof and Mouth Disease, that is, he can spread it without becoming infected himself. Susceptible animals, however, can die suddenly when they catch it. The virus can cause a degeneration of the heart, which is often the cause for a seemingly overnight change in an animal's health. There are seven known types and more than 60 identified subtypes of the virus. An animal that is susceptible to the virus may be immune to one type but not the other. There have been some reports that cats can catch the virus, but studies have shown they are similar but not the same illnesses.
Protection Against Disease
The United States has rigorous preventive measures in place to keep an outbreak from occurring in the nation. This includes restrictions on how meat and animals are brought into the country. Because of concerns that animals like cats can unwittingly serve as carriers of a dangerous virus like Hoof and Mouth Disease, domestic animals from other countries are not allowed to enter the United States.
There are many other diseases that may have similar symptoms to Hoof and Mouth Disease and can be just as severe. Cats can develop blisters around their mouth and occasionally contract feline calicivirus, an upper respiratory infection that has similar symptoms to Hoof and Mouth Disease. As with other viruses, this one can be highly contagious. Whenever blisters are noted on the foot area or mouth, you should bring your pet to the veterinarian for a checkup.