Some Infectious Diseases Hitting Cats, Dogs Harder

Three states possess the highest rate of infection for common pet diseases.

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Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Kentucky each earned the unenviable distinction of possessing the highest rate of infection for one of three common pet diseases, a Banfield Pet Hospital study revealed Tuesday.

Nationwide, the three ailments appear to be rampant. The prevalence of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), canine Lyme disease and feline upper respiratory infection (URI) jumped by 48, 21 and 18 percent, respectively, over a five-year period.

The study, summarized in the State of Pet Health 2014 Report, looked at what Banfield veterinarians found during examinations of 2.3 million dogs and 470,000 cats in 2013.

The Portland, Ore., chain operates more than 850 hospitals in 43 states. The study lacked data for the seven states where Banfield is absent: Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, North Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

"This year's report features an exclusive look at the infectious and emerging diseases affecting the overall health of our pet population," said Sandi Lefebvre, DVM, Ph.D., a Banfield epidemiologist and senior research manager.

Here are highlights from the State of Pet Health 2014 Report:


Oklahoma cats were at the highest risk of contracting feline immunodeficiency virus in 2013, with 1 in every 128 testing positive for the slow-acting disease, which has no known cure and only a moderately successful vaccine.

One in every 300 feline patients nationwide was found to be infected with FIV, and males were three times as likely to have the disease.

FIV is spread during mating, cat fights and from an infected mother to her kittens.

What is a cat owner to do? Banfield recommends blood-testing a cat before it is introduced to a multicat household, keeping cats indoors and isolating them from infected felines.

After Oklahoma, the highest risk of FIV was in Iowa, Arkansas, South Carolina and Indiana.


The northeastern United States remained the traditional home of tick-borne Lyme disease in 2013. One in every 15 New Hampshire dogs was found to be infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, Banfield reported.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania ranked second through fifth.

Maine and Vermont likely would have made the list if Banfield had a presence in those states. The Companion Animal Parasite Council, which tracks infections, reported similar rates there.

Pet owners and anyone else bitten by a blood-sucking deer tick can get Lyme disease, too. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported up to 300,000 confirmed or probable cases of Lyme disease in people in 2012.

Lameness, fever and lethargy are typical signs of Lyme disease in dogs. A blood test can confirm exposure to the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.

Banfield recommends protecting dogs through vaccinations and the use of flea and tick collars and preventives.

Cats are largely resistant to the disease.


Ten in every 100 cats checked at a Banfield clinic in 2013 had an upper respiratory infection, compared with 8 out of 100 in 2009.

URI covers infections of a cat's nose, sinuses or throat. The conditions originate with organisms present in bodily fluids and may be transmitted through coughing, sneezing, grooming and contaminated objects such as food bowls, Banfield stated.

Kentucky was No. 1 in URIs in 2013, with nearly 1 in every 7 cats affected. Close behind were Indiana, Utah and South Carolina.

Up-to-date vaccinations help fight upper respiratory infections. Cat owners can do even more by keeping their pets away from unvaccinated felines, Banfield stated.


• Canine parvovirus: New Mexico was far and away the leader in reported parvovirus infections, with 1 in 85 dogs being diagnosed in 2013 with the highly contagious but preventable disease. The national rate was 1 in 290 dogs—a number that remained stable from 2009 to 2013. Texas and Nevada had the second- and third-highest rates of parvovirus, which has an effective vaccine.

• Feline leukemia virus (FeLV): Seven of the 10 states with the highest rates of FeLV were in the Southeast, led by Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina. Idaho topped the nation with 1 in every 112 cats found to be carrying the disease, which is passed through bodily fluids. Feline leukemia virus has no known cure, but some cats fully recover. A vaccine is available.

• Ear mites: One in every 45 cats seen by a Banfield veterinarian in 2013 harbored the tiny insects, which feast on ear wax and skin oils. Infected cats frequently scratch their ears or shake their heads. Dogs are at lower risk of contracting ear mites, which easily pass from pet to pet through direct contact or contaminated objects. Veterinary and over-the-counter topical treatments are available. South Dakota, Iowa and Alabama were the top three states for mite infestations.

• Giardia: Microscopic parasites found in the lining of a dog's small intestine are called giardia, which are ingested through contaminated food, water and feces. The disease, giardiasis, was most prevalent in 2013 in Kentucky, Iowa, Massachusetts and New Jersey. The national rate of giardia infections dropped by 14 percent from 2009 to 2013?from 1 in every 178 dogs to 1 in every 208. Giardia may be eliminated with antibiotics or deworming medications, but no vaccine is available.

• Kennel cough: Canine infectious tracheobronchitis is a highly contagious respiratory infection that in 2013 affected 1 in every 36 dogs less than a year old. The disease rate has remained steady over the past five years. Kentucky was the leader in kennel cough in 2013, with 1 in 40 dogs of all ages being diagnosed with it. Utah and Florida ranked second and third. The national rate was about 1 in 175 dogs. The disease is treatable, but vaccines are highly effective.

FIV rates in 2013

Canine Lyme rates in 2013

URI rates in 2013

What's Behind Uptick?

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), canine Lyme disease and feline upper respiratory infection (URI) have become more prevalent over the past five years in U.S. pets. Banfield Pet Hospital epidemiologist and senior research manager Sandi Lefebvre, DVM, Ph.D., offered insight into the data spikes.

  • FIV: "One possible explanation is that more cats are being exposed to the virus than they have in the past, through lifestyle or history. For example, it's possible that more cats are going outdoors than they did in the past. … Another possible factor contributing to the increase is the fact that, according to the American Pet Products Association, more people are adopting cats from animal shelters as well as taking in stray cats as pets. … Another theory is that more owners are adopting cats that are known to have an FIV infection, because they realize that FIV is not necessarily a death sentence. It is also possible that the virus is simply becoming better at infecting cats."
  • Lyme disease: "Our data show that during the same period of time in which an increase in Lyme disease infection was observed, the prevalence of tick infestation also increased. Since Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks, it makes sense that the more ticks there are, the greater the risk of Lyme disease and other diseases that are carried by ticks."
  • URI: "The prevalence of upper respiratory infection in cats is slowly increasing—up 18 percent in five years—and this is disappointing given the availability of effective vaccines to prevent many of these infections. Specifically, feline herpesvirus 1 and feline calicivirus are both included in the standard vaccines recommended by major vaccine advisory groups for all cats starting at kittenhood. At this point we have no explanation for the increase in infections. … The reasons could involve fewer cats receiving follow-up booster vaccines after they complete their kitten series of vaccines."

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