Wherever birds go, cats are almost certain to follow. Unfortunately, something else that follows birds is bird droppings. In most cases they’re harmless; however, sometimes bird feces contains fungi or bacteria that are toxic to felines. These droppings can be harmful for kitty if she happens to get close enough to inhale or ingest their toxins.
The yeastlike fungus cryptococcus is found worldwide growing in bird droppings -- especially pigeon droppings -- and in decaying vegetation. The fungus causes the disease cryptococcosis. When your cat inhales or ingests the fungal spores, they go to work attacking and inflaming her lungs, nasal passages, stomach and gastrointestinal tract. If infected, your kitty will appear sluggish and may present enlarged lymph nodes, swelling of the nose, increased breathing rate, nasal discharge or growths, and/or crusty sores on her head. Treatment for cryptococcosis can last for one month to a year and involves antifungal medication and veterinary monitoring.
The fungal infection histoplasmosis enters your cat’s intestinal tract after she ingests bird droppings containing the Histoplasma capsulatum fungus. What a mouthful. The most common symptoms of this infection include coughing, labored breathing, lameness, eye discharge, diarrhea, fever up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, pale gums and enlarged lymph nodes. Your veterinarian will perform blood tests to confirm histoplasmosis; treatment includes antifungal drugs and in-patient care such as fluid therapy if severe dehydration exists.
The same fungi that cause histoplasmosis and cryptococcosis can cause deep fungal pneumonia in your cat. Ingesting bird droppings with these fungi could lead to at least three different diseases. Fungal pneumonia generally makes itself known through fever, reduced appetite, difficulty breathing, coughing episodes, lameness, nasal and/or ocular discharge, eye problems and even sudden blindness. Sometimes a cat with fungal pneumonia will lose weight as a result of her decreased appetite. If your cat’s weight loss and respiratory symptoms are severe, she may need hospitalization. Fluid and oxygen therapy should stabilize her enough so that she can consume her new high-calorie, protein-rich diet and antifungal medication. Treatment for fungal pneumonia will continue for least two months.
Salmonella passes to your cat when she ingests the bacteria via infected bird feces. This can happen when she consumes the droppings of an infected bird or accidentally licks infected feces off her paws. Many cats with salmonella don’t present symptoms. Some cats may show symptoms such as fever, diarrhea and vomiting, but these symptoms are the same as for a number of other gastrointestinal ailments. The only way to be sure your cat isn’t infected with salmonella bacteria is through a fecal culture. If she is infected -- since your cat can spread salmonella to you and other members of your household -- it’s important to practice excellent hygiene when cleaning her litter box during the duration of her illness. In most mild cases, cats will pass the bacteria through their systems in four to 10 days. A vet may prescribe antibiotics in severe cases or for young kittens or cats with compromised immune systems.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.