5 Degrees of Separation: Preventing the Spread of Illness and Disease

Updated: Jan 16

We all have been there. Illness and disease has come through our catteries. We can be as careful as possible and do everything right but there are too many variables to avoid it all and you certainly can’t just ignore them. While these are the things we don’t like to talk about, they exist. There is plenty of information out there instructing breeders on how to test and treat for hundreds of bacteria, viruses and other ickies we all don’t want to deal with but the real question is how to prevent its spread when we DO have something going around?

There are five areas of focus that are important to think about when tackling the What Now? These areas include Cleaning, Your physical cattery set up, Clothing attire and footwear, Outside sources, and The Veterinarian.


First up is The Clean Freak Cleaning is typically the obvious answer to prevent and control illness and disease. There is a gentle balance in regards to keeping your cattery clean and not creating a sterile bubble in which your kittens can never get sick except when they leave that bubble. Being a cattery you are much more susceptible to stressors that can get your cats and kittens sick but having them live in a bubble actually makes them more likely to get ill if they happen to come across a pathogen or disease organism. So yes please clean your surfaces and fabrics but also be aware of the cleaning products

that are being used. Many can be just as damaging and detrimental as illness and disease. Chemical cleaners include many chemicals (surprise) that are linked to cancer, impairment of reproductive and hormonal function, breathing difficulties and lung damage, cause chemical burns or result in toxicity. These effects are often cumulative and with limited regulation and lack of more extensive studies on the long term effects outside cancer research, it’s a gray area.


For more information check out our Blog Article Natural Cleaning Solutions That being said there is a balance between natural and conventional. There are some situations where you just have to go all out and kill the virus, bacteria or whatever is plaguing your cattery to get on top of things. If you do have to use a more heavy duty product make sure your babies and adults are out of the room, use plenty of ventilation and do not bring anyone back in until everything is not only dry but any lingering smells are completely out of the room. I highly recommend Rescue Products. Its main active ingredient is accelerated hydrogen peroxide and is readily used in veterinary hospitals and clinics, killing an extraordinary amount of bacteria, fungus, mold, odor and more. While hard surfaces are easier to clean, keep in mind you will still need to clean soft surfaces such as blankets, clothing, beds, cat trees etc. Blankets, bedding and beds should regularly be changed and washed in hot water and soap, preferably on sanitation settings if your washer has the option. Cat trees depending on what exactly they are made of, can be sprayed off and cleaned.


Mr Facility: Building Bullet Proof Housing

A cattery can be designed in an efficient way to further help prevent cross contamination. Obviously making sure all surfaces can be easily cleaned and non porous to prevent the growth of illness and disease is extremely important but there is more to it than just the type of paint and flooring you use. Many breeders have their cattery in their home. There is nothing wrong with this. It's easily accessible, their cats are part of the family and treated as such, no cages, lots of socialization for the kittens etc. However there is a down side, they are in your home. You can separate by putting cats and/or kittens in bedrooms, bathrooms and other livable space that your family uses regularly, but this isn’t the most ideal situation for you or your family. There is a compromise though! Many breeders convert their basements, add on to their homes or convert or custom build outbuildings feet outside their door so their cattery members are still part of the home and greatly spoiled in their own custom spaces.


The main idea here is to create a space where you can separate your cats into groups and further separate for those that are ill. Creating separate groups allows your cats to be in lower stress environments while still maintaining companionship and enrichment from like animals. Aside from poor diet and obvious sanitation issues, stress is a wide open door to illness and disease. When the body is stressed, the immune system is impaired and depressed, welcoming in various pathogens. If your cats are always fighting for a spot in the hierarchy or you begin to overcrowd the space, it gets more difficult to reduce stress no matter how many toys and wall furniture you have for enrichment and diffusion. I’ll draw from my personal cattery. My cattery is in my home. The original design of the house is a two story with the upper portion being all the living space (kitchen, living room, bedrooms, bathrooms) whereas the first floor was more of the basement, garage and utility room when we moved in). We renovated this whole first floor space for the cats and expanded outside the house. We broke it up into several spaces. We have the Main Cattery where retired adults, none pregnant and none in heat or non spraying girls can be. Off the Kitchenette and Laundry Room connected to the Main Cattery, we have two Quarantine Suites where ill cats or kittens can recover away from others. We have the Kitten Room. This is where our babies grow up, learn and socialize. In this space, there are also four Nursing and Delivery Suites where moms can deliver and raise their babies in a calm and stress free environment. Finally we have the Condos, custom built spaces for our boys and their girlfriend visitors. This full commitment renovation allows our cats to have their own space as well as socialize with other cats and contributes further to preventing the spread of illness and disease by providing a degree of separation. The cats are in smaller groups so should something come through the cattery it won’t spread to everyone because the cats are not in a “colony” setting, they are in micro groups. Another key feature is having multiple doors, in and out routes in your cattery. We have a door from the stairs into the cattery which has a door into the kitchenette, to outside and into the kitten room with each Suite having a door and then a main door also to outside in the Kitten Room.


Especially when you have illness and disease in your cattery it’s important to devise routes, a routine of how you visit cats and kittens, feed them and other such things. Having this set style of moving through your cattery can easily help prevent the spread of illness and disease.

In my personal example, I go from healthiest (or most vulnerable to disease such as newborns) to least healthy. For example



More in depth details of building the perfect cattery can be found in our article My Best Piece of Advice...Building the Ideal Cattery Space


Runway : Dress to Impress


Veterinarians wear scrubs. They are heavy duty, designed to prevent nails from scratching

and bites, able to be washed regularly without deteriorating quickly and have the added benefit of being cost effective despite everything they provide for the wearer. They are comfortable and allow maximum range of movement and most importantly they protect the wearer from bodily fluids and cross contamination. Many viruses and diseases can be carried on your clothing and when you are raising little ones with virtually no immune system, other than what mom has to provide, it's essential if you have ill adults or other kittens not to let this spread to the even more vulnerable. Wearing scrubs is only part of the equation, the shoes you wear is equally as important. So many parasites, viruses, bacteria etc can be harbored on your shoes. Now is the time to be a germaphobe because you never know what you could be bringing home from the veterinary office, a cat show, another breeder’s cattery, the pet store or your own yard. The fact of the matter is, you can do everything right and your kittens can still get sick so taking the extra precaution is 100% worth NOT losing a litter of newborns. Purchasing several sets of scrubs is a great idea to protect yourself and other animals as you enter quarantine or other areas where sick animals are being cared for and treated. Change and put these scrubs in the laundry after being in with the patients. In addition, employ a shoe system. This can include several methods. 1. Have a wash bin of antiviral, fungal, bacterial, microbial (etc.) solution outside or near your quarantine zones. All shoes should be dipped in this solution and dried before entering a room. 2. Have a different pair of shoes and/or flip flops that are specifically used for each room or area of your cattery making sure to wash them regularly. Employing these methods helps prevent the further spread of illness and disease even when these things may be currently present in your cattery. Even when you do not have a current case, it is still a good idea to at least have designated shoes for the various parts of your cattery AS WELL AS when you visit other animal related locations to prevent bringing back illness and disease.


The Outsider: The Biggest Villain

While you cannot keep your cattery in a bubble (ultra sterility can be just as damaging as a completely messy and unsanitary cattery) it is extremely important to identify potential sources of contamination that could infiltrate your cattery. You can do everything right but as soon as you let someone into your cattery or you set foot outside your door something more serious can cross that barrier of entry where illness and disease runs rampant. No breeder wants to be rude or mean, set rules that seem silly to others, but you are caring for fragile and vulnerable lives. If you think it can’t happen to you, I’m here to burst your bubble. It can and most likely will. No matter how few cats you have, how often you vaccinate or how much you clean something can always happen. Be proactive, not complacent. So it is your job to look at all potential sources of infection (whether that is fungal, viral, bacterial etc.)


Veterinary Hospital

While you may be taking your kittens to the vet for a basic spay or neuter, maybe a socialization session or wellness check for a health certificate, most people are going to the vet because their companion is ill in some capacity. They could have fleas, herpes, chronic diarrhea a whole slew of potential illnesses and diseases. Veterinarians and their staff do all that they can to keep things clean, sanitized and safe for everyone however they are only human. They cannot control a cat sneezing into the air, a dog having explosive diarrhea in the waiting room or cleaning every single nook and cranny constantly all day long. Therefore just like the human hospital or the pediatrician, chances of your companion or yourself bringing something home isn’t uncommon.

Cat Shows

Imagine being in a room for a weekend with 100+ plus people plus another 100+ people coming and going just to see what’s going on. Imagine not knowing where those people have been and who they have been in contact with (we all have been hyper aware of this since afflicted with COVID-19). Now on top of worrying about yourself, imagine a room for a weekend, maybe three days with 200+ cats and their breeders and owners and not knowing where those cats have been or what’s going on at their cattery homes. Some may have the sniffles but the owner is not worried. Some may be asymptomatic or a carrier and shedding a virus or other illness while under the stress of showing. Even seasoned cats that show still are exposed to long car rights, unfamiliar hotel rooms and tons of new smells and sounds of other cats. Some may be in heat or marking their territory from hundreds of other males marking theirs. It's like that STD poster we were shown in high school. For every cat your cat comes in contact with directly there were dozens if not hundreds of others they too were in contact with. Again it is not that you hate other breeders, don’t trust them and assume they have ill intent, however you just don’t know at the end of the day what’s what. Again you cannot live in a sanitized world. Not only is this impossible but it is not healthy by any means and living in fear is certainly not healthy either. So while it is important to be aware of where illness and disease can occupy and being diligent and proactive you can protect your cattery.


While immune boosting is important before and during shows there are other proactive things you can do to prevent the start or spread of illness and disease within your cattery.

Catteries

Just like the more children in a classroom the more likelihood your child will come home sick and get you sick and the rest of the family sick too (It’s a given) the more animals you have the more likelihood of stress and illness and disease resulting. This also means illness and disease spreads faster and more easily as well. It’s one thing worrying about your own cattery but you don’t 100% know what's going on at another cattery. Understandably so. Even with some of your closest friends, you don’t want to be judged, you don’t want your actions twisted or spread around social media, sometimes information is downplayed or not disclosed fully. Again understandably so. Just like cat shows while we aren’t saying don’t trust other breeders and assume they have ill intent, you just don’t know at the end of the day so be diligent.

Other Guests Obviously you can practice many of our tips like change and washing clothing and shoes when you come home, but you can’t control what other breeders and potential pet owners do coming to your home. Were guests just at another cattery? Did they change? Wash their hands?

Providing these boundaries helps ensure you have done what you can to avoid illness and disease and helps protect your cattery in the long run.

Shelters/Rescues/Fosters


There are just as many similar concerns with Shelters/Rescues/Fosters as catteries unfortunately to consider.


At this point it may be important to consider operating a Closed Cattery. A closed cattery is one where outside guests are not permitted physical access to your cattery. This does not mean your cattery is not transparent or shady. Many breeders do video tours of their cattery, share pictures of the cats and kittens, answer many questions and will meet at a local park or other location to meet kittens. There are many reasons Breeders are a closed cattery, easy spread of illness and disease is just one of many. Some breeders may once have been open but had an incident and felt for the safety of their family and their cattery that it was best to now be a closed cattery.


Your Yard

Another consideration is your very own yard. Some catteries strictly maintain their cattery completely indoors, others have their boys in buildings outdoors, while enclosed to still have access to outside. While you can control where your cats are, you cannot control other animals. Aside from wild animals, scavengers like raccoons, possums and rodents, there are stray cats. Any of these can bring fleas, ticks, FeLV, herpes, FIV, parasites and more. Aside from deciding where your cats will be housed concerns of tracking things in from your yard on shoes for example is another. Taking precautions in your yard as well as ensuring to take precautions with your shoes is essential in preventing cross contamination of illness and disease throughout your cattery.


Dr. You

Veterinarians go to school, they have a degree, they are a valuable team member in the care of your cattery and the cats you have in your program and the kittens you produce. But what if the practice is closed, the emergency vet is too far to get there in time, it’s a holiday, you live in the mountains and weather may prohibit you from getting to the vet, maybe you have newborns that may catch something from the clinic, you have a mom that is so nervous driving in the car and being poked and prodded will cause even more stress or there is a situation that requires more maintenance and longer term care? What do you do then? You become your cats’ best friend and treat from home. While this isn’t something everyone should do, or do without veterinary advice there sometimes is a situation when you MUST be the doctor to save a cat or kitten.


It is essential for you to have some basic bare minimum skills to take care of your kittens. These suggested skills include:

In addition to this basic list, we also recommend the following list of items to have on hand in your cattery as well to care for and treat your cats. Elysian Bengals Emergency Supplies List


Illness and disease unfortunately can infiltrate any cattery no matter how careful you are. There are many sources this can come from including other cats and animals, veterinary hospitals, pet owners visiting and much more. While many resources exist for preventing and treating illness and disease, its important to also evaluate situations and ways to prevent the further spread once your cattery has it. Obviously cleaning is common solution but also looking at your clothing and shoes, the places you go and where others go before coming to your cattery are important considerations. Evaluating the perfect cattery set up to prevent cross contamination and employing basic skills and obtaining an arsenal of emergency supplies to help you care for your cats and kittens are equally as important. Illness and disease doesn't have to be the end all be all to your cattery. There is a lot you can do to make sure your cats and kittens are safe, happy and healthy or get to that point once illness or disease appears in your cattery.