An outbreak of the deadly cat tuberculosis disease has recently claimed the lives of five cats in the UK. The spreading of the disease has been linked to a brand of raw cat food.

What is tuberculosis?

Infections caused by Mycobacterium bovis (M.Bovis) are typically known as tuberculosis (or TB). It is a serious disease, and left untreated can be fatal - to both animals and humans.

Symptoms in cats vary but usually begin to manifest in the coming weeks after infection. They can include non-healing wounds, swollen lumps under the skin, and/or an intestinal infection causing diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss. The disease then makes its way through the body towards the respiratory system, as well as to bone and other organs.

M.bovis usually infects cattle and a wide range of animals including deer, badgers, ferrets, dogs and cats. Cats may be infected either from the consumption of unpasteurised, infected cows milk or infected raw meat products; from contact with other infected animals; or within their immediate environment where the pathogen is found.

Other tuberculosis-causing mycobacteria can also infect cats. These include M.microti, a mycobacterial species that mainly infects rodents and is a main cause of tuberculosis in cats that actively hunt in neighborhood streets and parks.

Tuberculosis contamination in cat food

At least six cats contracted tuberculosis after eating frozen, raw pet food sold in the UK. Sadly, five of the six cats infected have died. It has been said that another seven cats have been exposed to the contaminated pet food’s pathogens, the organisms that transfer the disease to its host.

An ongoing study is being led by researchers from the University of Edinburgh. The researchers have so far claimed that the M.Bovis bacteria may have contaminated raw pet food brand Natural Instinct’s Wild Venison formulation.

Their report was published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. It states that, "Our results provide compelling, if circumstantial, evidence of an association between the commercial raw diet of these cats and their M. Bovis infections."

What happened?

The tuberculosis outbreak started back in 2018 in five different households. While M.Bovis typically infects cats that usually venture outside and get food from hunting, all of the infected cats lived indoors. Other sources of bacteria were also ruled out, such as wildlife or rodent contact, access to raw milk and exposure to infectious humans.

The only observed common factor among the five households was the Natural Instinct Wild Venison raw cat food. The disease progressed rapidly for each cat with some needing extensive surgery. The remaining required euthanising.

How concerned are you about contamination of raw food products?

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