Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) is reminding residents to take precautions against animal-borne diseases after a family’s pet cat tested positive for plague in Longmont.


On Easter Sunday, the cat’s owners noticed the animal was lethargic and showed signs of illness, including swollen lymph nodes under its chin. On April 21, the cat was taken to a veterinary clinic and tested positive for plague. The cat’s owners have not shown any symptoms and are taking post-exposure medication as a precaution. The cat has also been given antibiotics and its health has improved.

Plague occurs naturally in Colorado, and is an infectious disease spread by fleas to wild rodents and other small mammals such as, squirrels, rats, prairie dogs and rabbits. Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague and occurs after a bite from an infected flea. Plague can spread to humans when infected fleas from squirrels, prairie dogs, and other wild rodents bite a human.

Household pets, such as dogs and especially cats, can either get plague or carry infected fleas home to their owners. In rare instances plague can be transmitted to people from sick cats.

“Taking steps to avoid flea exposures will help prevent the disease from spreading. Keeping cats indoors is the best way to protect them from getting plague,” said Carol McInnes BCPH environmental health specialist. “Pet owners should also discuss the best way to protect pets from fleas with their veterinarians.”

Symptoms of plague include high fever, extreme fatigue, and painful swollen lymph nodes. If you observe these symptoms in a person or pet, it is important to contact your healthcare provider or veterinarian immediately. Plague can be treated with antibiotics, but this treatment is most successful when the disease can be diagnosed and treated quickly.

This is the first time plague activity has been confirmed in Boulder County this season. Public health officials want to remind residents of how to protect themselves against plague:

  • AVOID FLEAS Protect pets with flea and tick prevention treatment and keep pets on a leash and out of wild rodent habitats.
  • PREVENT FLEA BITES If you enter areas with wild rodents, wear insect repellent and tuck pants cuffs into socks to prevent flea bites.
  • AVOID all contact with wild rodents, including squirrels; do not feed or handle them.
  • DO NOT TOUCH sick or dead animals.
  • PREVENT rodent infestations around your house: clear plants and materials away from outside walls, reduce access to food items, and set traps.
  • TREAT known rodent sites around your home with flea powder or a suitable insecticide.

Rain and warmer weather typically mark the beginning of spring migration season for many animals that are common throughout the Front Range. This usually brings an increase in other animal-borne diseases including rabies, tularemia, Hantavirus, and West Nile virus.

The community can take a few additional steps to reduce the spread of disease to pets and people:

  • TIDY UP your property, clear any areas where rodents and rabbits can hide and breed, and keep bird and pet food away from areas that could be visited by rodents. Drain or remove items that can collect water where mosquitoes can breed. Be particularly careful not to breathe in particles in areas where there is evidence of an active mouse infestation, such as in and around buildings or in nearby wood or junk piles.
  • PREVENT your pets from hunting or eating wild rodents.
  • WEAR closed shoes in areas where animals have been seen sick or dead. Do not mow over animal carcasses, and use a dust mask when mowing or doing landscape work.
  • VACCINATE your pets for rabies. Rabies is always fatal unless it is treated before any symptoms appear. Treatment for rabies exposure involves a series of vaccinations.
  • SEE A HEALTH CARE PROVIDER if you become ill after spending time near wildlife.
  • SEE A VETERINARIAN if your pet becomes ill after spending time near wildlife.