In the shadows

What I will write about today is something that a few of other cat owners experience as well, but not all are open about it. Some rather go through that in silence and I understand why. But I want to tell about what we are going through and if possible help others with our story.

Claire was mated just a little bit before our story begins and we  were not sure yet if she stayed pregnant.  Jossan had a date that we drove back to his Mom the previous day. The day the story starts, I came home from work and went to the litter boxes to clean them. Claire followed me, and she went on one of the litter boxes in front of me and did #2. Her stool did not look as usual; it was softer, shinier, and there was a little red streak in it. It smelled bad. I felt dizzy and my heart started racing when I saw that particular streak, and I got so scared. What I saw was blood, I understood that.

Joakim had just entered the house, and I showed him what I saw. Claire stared at us with her beautiful blue eyes, wondering why we look so upset and then she happilly ran away hunting for a toy.

I followed her to the upper floor, got to my computer and started googling for the symptoms while calling a veterinary. Our vet had already closed for the day so I called another clinic that is also pretty good. While waiting to talk to the veterinary, I managed to google that the blood in the stool that looked as Claire’s did, light and almost transparent, was just an irritation in the large intestine, and usually not a sign off something serious. OK, that was not bad.

The veterinary was not too worried, cat diarrhea is the most common cause for a veterinary visit, and often there is not a serious cause behind it (in 80% of cases). I said that Claire was pregnant and, sure, if she gets fine by tomorrow, I can accept it as a one time thing, but if it continues, I want to book a time for a checkup. And so we booked the first available time they had, two days later, and I would call and cancel it if Claire got well.

She did not get better. We ran to another clinic the same night and bought special food for cats with diarrhea, gave her probiotics and extra nutrients in a concentrated paste.

Then Leroy got bad. He ate a lot of grass the previous day, so I thought that that is why, but his stool smelled so bad and now we had two cats that were bad in tummy and I started feeling very anxious. Our cats are almost never sick. They can eat whatever, their tummies are fine. And that smell, you just know that something is wrong.

The next day we took both Leroy and Claire to the veterinary to a booked visit. Our furry babies were very cute and cuddly, a picture perfect clinically healthy cats. No fever, happy, good appetite, clear eyes and all. She took a smear from their bottoms (not appreciated!) and looked under the microscope (we knew before and she mentioned that it is not a 100% certain she will find something that way, even if it is there). No, nothing.

But I knew something was wrong.  Although our cats behaved as always, did not go down at all in weight and ate well, that smell and feeling something is wrong was enough. We agreed to collect samples of their stool for some time and send it to SVA (Swedish Veterinary Institute).

I googled and read studies and other sites and discussion boards frenetically. I was certain what it was. Tritrichomonas Foetus, the odd parasite that came to the cat population around 1999, and no one knows how; before it was something that mostly plagued cows. I mailed Casper’s mom Désirée that is a veterinary and researcher also at SVA, but works with birds, and she gave me advice and support and told me for which tests to ask for TF; it was a so called PCR test. We also would test for Giardia and other parasites.And so we sent the collected samples.

As the days went by, all of our cats occasionally got bad stool. The veterinary said that it was too late to separate them anyway, they already were all probably infected with whatever they might have had. What we should focus on was to keep them happy and healthy and not stress them. I called and informed the owner of the guys our girls dated what I worried about and the tests I sent for. She was very worried as well. Her cats were symptom free, but there are symptom-free carriers of TF.

A week later, even before the results came back, I was completely certain that our cats had TF. I read many many things about it, and exchanged plenty of mails with Des, Casper’s Mom, and Jossan’s breeder, my friend Monica. The cats felt absolutely fine, except that it smelled awful in their litter boxes and they sometimes had bad consistency of their poo. Not all the time, maybe 50% in average, it was all good. But not all the same cats all the time had bad stool; it varied. But they played, Claire went up in weight (we weighed the cats every day) and started eating more and more. They slept and ate as before and all was as before. Except for the litter box thing. I checked their bottoms every day to see if they got irritated or swollen, but they were fine.

And then the results came. The veterinary called and said that she was sorry, but it was TF, as I thought. I felt terrible and at the same time relieved. The thing is that Joakim and I were very worried, we did not not sleep or eat well all that time. I could have been wrong about TF, and something else could have been the culprit of the foul smell and the bad tummies. A virus or a bacteria that could kill the unborn kittens and make our cats really sick. Or not kill the kittens, but give them all kind of deformities. Or something that could kill the moms to be, give them inflammation of the uterus etc… I am a breeder and know other breeders, I heard all kind of things that other experienced during their years as breeders. You see pictures of fluffy cute kittens in all these catteries, including ours, and that is true, breeding is an amazing experience, but then, there is that other side of the coin; cats can get sick and bad things can happen. And we must do our best to help them stay healthy and recover fast when sick!

Let me tell you a little about TF.

Tritrichomonas Foetus is a small parasite, it is a single-celled protozoa, flagellate. It looks pretty nasty when enlarged, but it is very small.

The fact is that TF does not actually make cats go down in condition. The parasite lives in the large intestine and causes diarrhea or actually soft poo at times. It smells really bad. At some cats it gives no symptoms at all! All the nutrition from food is already taken and absorbed in the small intestine before it gets to the region where TF resides. That is why cats do not get sick or lose weight. TF does not affect unborn kittens or cats’ condition. Our cats do not go to the toilet more often either. It is the consistency that is sometimes different. And that smell. It is awful.

TF is not contagious for humans.

There are studies in Britain and Norway that were done on taking samples from all the cats on cat shows and it turns out that between 20% and 31% of all the cats had TF! Some had other parasites as well, as for example Giardia.

I think that it is a responsible behavior to treat it, sell only TF -free cats and stop spreading of TF. We could sell a seemingly healthy kittens with TF, but it could give it to other cats and occasional (or in some cases – everyday) diarrhea is not fun to deal with. Our cats have very mild symptoms, but some cats get worse; it depends on their overall health, I guess.

I think that it is not acceptable to sell the cats that are sick or even symptom-free carriers of parasites. Not only  that by selling kittens with problems you would give a lot of emotional and economical stress to the new owners, it is also that we love our cats and kittens with all of our hearts, and we would never give them such a bad start in life that would lead into continued illness and possible misery. TF usually heals on its own on 90% of cats even without medications in average of 9 months. In two years the most of them are fine; about 60% are parasite-free. About 40% are suspected to stay symptom free carriers for longer.

There is a bit of hysteria about TF (when we do not know much about something, we get scared, and sometimes even worse than scared). I read that some claim that TF kills cats, kittens etc. TF does not kill kittens. To quote one of the experts on TF, professor Danielle Gunn-Moore, it is unlikely that kittens with TF die from TF or the diarrhea caused by it. It is much more likely that Giardia or another bacterial, viral or parasitic condition was also present in the kittens if they died, and that it was one of those that were as yet undetected that kills the kittens.

This was confirmed by one of our  veterinaries, Katharina (she works with Buba and she is also an excellent veterinary). I talked today with her, and told her what we have and that we will have kittens soon. We will be able to run to them immediately if the kittens get dehydrated and need some extra liquid under their skin or vitamins, if it comes to that. Although, we tested for other things, and we do not have anything but TF, so the kittens will most likely be fine even if they get TF from the big cats. But it feels good to have  veterinary support even before the kittens turn 12 weeks and all the cats can be medicated and cured. We will try to prevent the kittens from getting TF by separating their litter box from moms’ litter boxes.

We are also in contact with other veterinaries (the cats will be treated when the kittens are big enough at the first clinic we went to, Linnea is also very good veterinary and they will help us get the medicine from abroad, on a licence) and the SVA’s parasitic laboratory and I am mailing some more of the world experts on TF, since abroad  (especially in the US) people have more experience with TF than we in Sweden. Plenty of knowledgable people are involved!

Our cats and kittens to come will be taken care of and treated and move to their new homes when they are tested and given a clean bill of health.

This may be a hard few months ahead of us, but we will do our best.

Informative links about TF:

In Swedish, about both Giardia and TF:

9 comments on “In the shadows

  1. I’m so happy to read you are all sorted and have the situation under control. How exciting to have kittens on the way. I hope they escape the TF and the bigger cats gets better soon =^.^=

    • Thank you so much! We hope that all goes well, we are trying to learn all about our enemy, TF. 🙂
      It was frightening at beginning, now it is also scary, but now we are mostly very excited to meet Claire’s and Jossan’s kittens soon! 🙂

  2. Glad that you were able identify the cause of your situation. It must be a worrisome concern with kittens on the way. My Pebbles had a trace of blood in her stool years ago. She had an upset tummy at the time. Fortunately, it was a one-time incidence and her appetite returned to normal the next day. When health issues arise, the worry builds fast.

    • We were worried, but now we feel pretty prepared for what may come.
      It helps a lot that they are feeling well, it makes us more relaxed. And the fact that we have a war plan. 🙂
      Soon we will have small kittens here and that in itself is a lot of work and worry. We’ll do our best.

  3. Heavens Jelena you must have been and are so worried !! I think most ‘ordinary’ folk wouldn’t even know that their cat had a problem – they might think that it’s just a ‘tummy upset’ and leave it at that if it wasn’t that bad! And for those of us who have outdoor cats – we may never know as they don’t use boxes !

    I know your cats are house cats – so how did they get this disease – or is that still a mystery ??

    Much love …

    • Thank you for your kind words! Our cats do go out sometimes, under controlled forms, during the summer, sometimes on a leash, sometimes next to us, but that is not how they got TF. I would recommend to have cats sometimes outside, if it is safe for them, actually, since it is so good for their immunity! Our cats are never sick with infections or viruses.

      It is not very likely to get TF just from being outside; the parasite dies fast in outer environment. It can of course be contracted outside during pairing with a cat that has TF, or stepping into a less than one hour old fresh stool of cat with TF (cats are not that clumsy though).
      TF is a parasite of race cats mostly (and cats that live with them). Mostly Siamese, Bengals and Abyssinians have it, from what I read. Other than that, cats in shelters also may have TF.

      We know how we got it, it is not from the outside. We are certain that we got it via mating. That is how you get TF, mating with cats that are carriers with no symptoms (no one would ever lend a cat for mating with symptoms. Their Mom is a serious breeder, and she had no idea they had parasite, they had no symptoms!), or by buying in a new infected cat from another cattery. Since it is estimated that about 20-30% (some claim even 40%) of race cats have TF, it is not such a rare parasite, and many cats do not have any symptoms after some time, so it is easy to miss it.

      Even our cats have almost totally fine stool now. Someone who does not know them would maybe not suspect anything. Cats can get rid of the parasite themselves, the most of them do, but it can take from 3 months to 2 years for that. If one has no active breeding and the cats have no symptoms and are neutered and indoor cats, I would probably not advise to treat the parasite at all, since the infection will most likely resolve on its own (if it does not and cats have runny diarrhea that do not go away in a longer time, it should probably be treated).

      We hope that we will manage to prevent the kittens from getting TF, but if they do, we will treat them as well. We will medicate all our cats that are tested TF positive when the kittens turn 12 weeks.

      • Also, when breeding cats, being a serious and registered breeder, you test both of the future parents for many conditions and diseases, that could be either inherited or transmitted. You check the lines, you have to know a lot about the generations of cats behind as well. You want to breed healthy kittens!

        Our cats were obviously healthy, vaccinated and in good condition, but also tested for FeLV and FIV, and they did not have chlamydia, herpes or mykoplasma. They are DNA tested for PRA (a mutation that gives blindness). The liver and kidney values are tested on many cats behind them (you have to follow that mostly on older cats, younger cats’ values are usually fine). They were negative on all the tests and so apparently healthy! Also, they had a veterinary checkup just before mating (when we did fresh tests for FeLV and FIV).

        If I knew how common TF and Giardia are, we would have tested our cats and asked another breeder to test her cats for that, too. At the same time, there are many things, and we breeders test for the ones we know about. In the future we will check for both TF and Giardia. Now I know much more than before we contracted TF (luckily not Giardia as well).

        • You are so full of information Jelena !!! Thank you for that explanation… My Saffy the Siamese is fine – but the new male cat we have, Dax, seems to have ‘loose’ stools. Not runny but loose and smelly !! He is now very healthy, having been neutered a few weeks back and has put on a LOT of weight !! He is always hungry now whereas before we had to encourange him to eat. He was about 3.600 kg and now is over 6kgs ! He is filling out – but still isn’t ‘fat’ – !! He is a big boned cat with huge paws so will never be like our Saffy – she almost looks like a kitten now in comparison – We will watch his diet though .. I don’t want him being a fat cat even though the vet seemed to think that cats are ‘ok’ being fat !! Weird !! lol! I will keep an eye on his stools though … and perhaps give the vet a ring if they stay loose …. Not long for your kittens now !! How exciting !! [I am excited too – as our son is having his first – only his partner is having TWINS – a girl and a boy! Probably mid November to December …. !]

          • Dax is so lucky you took him in and take such good care of him!

            I guess that his tummy has to adapt to the new food he is eating. I would give him a product with beneficial bacterias like Pro-kolin, Fortiflora, Bactaquin or Canikur Pro when his tummy is upset and see if that helps. Not all of them, only one, they all are good and contain the same kind of good bacterias. Diarsanyl is also an excellent product that can be used against uncomplicated diarrhea. (BTW, I guess Dax is already warmed)?

            Also, neutered male cats usually go up in weight after being neutered, their metabolism slows down a lot (sometimes even 30% compared to how it was when they were fertile). It is not like that for all of them, but for many it is. Ask Leroy, he knows a lot about the subject! ;D

            It must be exciting with babies on the way for your son and his partner! FIngers crossed that all goes well!

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