A cat's paw with a bump. He could have cat leprosy, also known as feline leprosy

Feline Leprosy?! Here’s Herc’s Story


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Ever heard of feline leprosy (cat leprosy)? Well, it exists! NZ pet parent Courtney shared with us the story of her one year old cat Herc, a lovable goofball who was diagnosed with the rare disease this year. Wondering how you’d even spot cat leprosy symptoms? What about what feline leprosy treatment is? We answer in this article.

But first, we bet we know what you’re wondering…. Though you’d think only humans can get this disease and that it’s been mostly eradicated by vaccines, it does still pose a risk to cats.

Below is Herc’s story.

Herc the cat, who had feline leprosy

Meet Herc

Courtney Morris from Tauranga is the proud pet parent of four cats. Among them is Herc, a beautiful black specimen that Courtney describes as “a real character.”

“He’s such a cool and calm cat, but when we got him he would just run into windows!” she says. “He’s got a very long tail and he just fumbled around everywhere.”

Herc joined the household quite by chance. The family had just rescued a cat called Avo that they’d found on the side of the road, and decided she needed a friend. They went to a house where they had seen Herc advertised. When they got there the cats were in poor shape – covered in fleas and being fed dog food.

“My partner and I liked Herc,” Courtney says. “And then we saw another little cat called Mackie.”

They decided to take both furballs home. With their cat family now grown to four, they took out multi-pet insurance with PD to cover them for any accidents or illnesses …

A wise decision, since Courtney would need it for Herc pretty soon!

A photo of Herc. He had cat leprosy

A strange lump

So how did Courtney come to learn her new fur kid, who was only a little older than one year at the time, had cat leprosy?

“We didn’t really notice anything different from him,” she says. “He started becoming a lot more smoochy, so he would cuddle into us, but he was quite cuddly in the first place so it wasn’t all that strange.”

Courtney is in the habit of touching her cats’ paws and ears when they’re on her lap (more on this later!). As she touched down his legs she felt the lump.

“It was this small but solid lump on his leg,” she says. “I’d just been talking to a friend who had to take her cat to the vet because it had an abscess, so I thought it was that.”

She booked a vet appointment for Herc and took him in the next day.

PD Pet works with NZ vets to be the best pet insurance in NZ

Cat leprosy diagnosis

At Koru Vets, the vet inspected Herc and Courtney pointed out the lump. As Courtney explains, “She looked at it and sort of played with it a little bit and said that it wasn’t an abscess since it wasn’t oozy.”

The vet took a sample with a needle and it came back with a weird result, so she decided to send it for more tests.

“And that sort of startled us. It was like ‘oh my goodness, what what’s going on here?'” says Courtney.

The vet was shocked too

The next day the vet gave Courtney a call, informing her that Herc had leprosy and needed feline leprosy treatment. Many vets aren’t familiar with it and Courtney says this one was rather taken aback.

“I could hear it in her voice that she was trying to explain it to me, but she couldn’t because she didn’t fully understand it herself. It was a confusing phone call.”

The vet explained that one way cats can get it is from a rat bite.

“That sort of clicked instantly because where we live is downhill and we’ve got a little bit of stream out the back of our property so we get quite big water rats.”

Courtney can’t remember ever seeing a bite on Herc’s leg before the lump. They have quite a few cats around their property and they get into fights a lot, but she can’t remember seeing blood on Herc or him limping.

Did you know treatment for infections or abscesses caused by cat bites are one of PD’s most common insurance claims? Read more about cat fights in our article Help! Another Cat Bit My Cat then learn how to break up a cat fight.

Feline leprosy treatment

As part of his feline leprosy treatment, Herc was then booked into surgery to have the lump removed. Afterwards he was put on a two-month antibiotics course.

“The antibiotics that he was on passed through his liver. So he would have to go in every week for the past two months for blood work to make sure that his liver functions were okay. He’s been fine so far.”

With the cat leprosy lump removed and the antibiotics working, the vet says Herc should be fine. No doubt his pet parents breathed a sigh of relief! Another relief was that getting Herc’s bills paid was made easy through PD.

Extra relief from the right cover

“It was just amazing,” says Courtney. “I called up that first day and the PD representative was so shocked by what it was. She helped me through the entire thing. It was so nice and easy and she wished us luck and called again to make sure that Herc was okay.”

Not having to worry about the financial cost of treating your pet allows you to focus on what matters – taking the best care of them while they recover.

“The bills sort of came every now and then. So after the surgery there was a bill and then we had to go and pay for the medication. So that was another bill. I would get in contact with PD every time just to make sure that everything was going smoothly,” says Courtney.

“And every time I called anyone that answered was just so lovely and so willing to help. I’ve recommended PD to everyone that I know that has an animal.”

Herc the cat had feline leprosy

Cat leprosy 101: What exactly is it?

So what exactly is feline leprosy?

It’s a skin infection caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium lepraemurium. It’s not the same as leprosy in humans, which is caused by a different type of bacteria. And you’ll be happy to know feline leprosy isn’t contagious to humans or other animals.

Cats with feline leprosy develop single or multiple skin nodules, often on the head or limbs. The nodules may lose their hair and become ulcerated. Other symptoms of feline leprosy may include enlarged lymph nodes and weight loss.

Feline leprosy is usually treated with a combination of antibiotics, including rifampicin, clarithromycin, and clofazimine. Treatment can be effective, but it may take several months to clear the infection.

Here are more need-to-knows:

  • It’s most common in cats that live in rural areas or have access to the outdoors.
  • The exact way that feline leprosy is spread is not fully understood, but it’s thought to be through contact with infected rodents.
  • There’s no vaccine for feline leprosy, but the prognosis is good with early diagnosis and treatment. Which brings us to our next point …

Be responsible – feel your cat!

Herc was able to get quick treatment for his cat leprosy because Courtney noticed the lump on his leg early. And there’s a very good reason for that. Courtney often touches her cats’ ears and paws – not only to feel for any lumps or sores, but to get them used to being touched by the vet.

This type of at-home inspection can save your cat’s or dog’s life by alerting you to problems early.

“I highly recommend always checking your animals,” says Courtney. “They can’t talk to you to tell you when something is wrong, but there will be signs.”

Expand your knowledge further on what to look out for in cats with our ‘Spotlight on Claims Data for National Cat Health Month‘ article.

Want to read more PD customer stories? Check out these ones:

Insurance for the unexpected, like cat leprosy

Whether it’s something common like an abscess or something totally unexpected, it’s hard to predict what accidents or illnesses could befall your cat. Having pet insurance is one way to ensure your bank account is covered for a wide range of unanticipated health issues (feline leprosy treatment).

PD Insurance is New Zealand’s favourite pet insurance provider. Whether it’s for your cat or your dog, you’ll get one or more months FREE pet insurance with PD when you buy a plan online. Click below to get your quote.

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