E. Coli bacteria viewed under a microscopeEscherichia coli is one of the most common bacterial organisms. E. Coli is commonly found in the gut of most mammals on the earth.  It tends to be a beneficial bacteria and at worst case at least the gut presence is benign.  E. Coli in the gut exits within fecal matter and can grow and reproduce for about 3 days.  A good reason for cat owners to scoop litter boxes daily and disinfect at least weekly using a recommended antibacterial disinfectant (link).

Most E. Coli strains do not cause disease, however, there are dangerous and toxic strains that can cause cramping, diarrhea, vomiting and occasionally fever.  E. Coli is most common in small kittens just starting to eat, when learning to use the litter box or when teething. If the queen has even a mild E. Coli infection, it is relevant because it can cross the placenta and infect kitten in utero. If a kitten or kittens are severely affected by E. Coli the kittens may become septic and this can be a life-threatening condition.

Like many of the other diseases that affect the gastrointestinal tract, the symptoms will be some or all of the following:

  • Bluish-colored gums and lips
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Low body temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Reasons this may happen include:

  • Other infections or disease lowering the resistance
  • Overcrowding
  • Mammary gland infection(s)
  • Poor health
  • Poor nutrition
  • Unsanitary living conditions

Treating E. Coli Infection

First, treatment will include rehydration; most likely at your veterinarian’s office.  Also antibiotics.  If a small kitten affected for the E.Coli infection usually the prognosis is not good because they go downhill quickly.  Most important follow all veterinarian instructions closely.

In addition, the best possible way to prevent this from occurring to a kitten or adult for that matter is to have clean surroundings and good nutritional food.  Therefore clean the birthing area and replace bedding regularly.  All bedding should be washed in the appropriate cleaners to rid it of bacteria.  Also important, when handling kittens clean your hands and clothing before and after handling.  Finally, the most important prevention is mother’s colostrum that is produced in the first days after birth.

E. Coli has the same symptoms as many other intestinal-based infections like Giardia, Coccidia, Campylobacter, Salmonella and others.  PCR testing is very helpful in these cases in order to determine the correct treatment.

LSL