Could your cat give you the plague?

In the United States there is an average of seven human cases per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 80 percent of those cases are the bubonic form of the disease.

The disease is most common in rural areas of the West, especially parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon. In those places, the bacteria can circulate in prairie dogs, ground squirrels, chipmunks, wood rats, and other animals.

Globally, between 1,000 and 2,000 cases are reported each year, according to the CDC.

Cats can become infected when they eat infected rodents or are bitten by fleas associated with these rodents. Since 1977, 407 cats in New Mexico have been diagnosed with plague, Dr. Phipps said. “Pets that hunt are one of the highest risk groups,” he added. “Cats are very susceptible to plague and it can be fatal.”

As with humans, infected cats can make a full recovery if the disease is caught early. But because the symptoms resemble those of many other diseases, diagnosis can be difficult. Infected cats may develop fever, become lethargic, and lose their appetite. Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck area, are also common.

Dogs can also be infected, but they do not usually get as sick as cats.

“The risk of contracting plague from your cat is fairly minimal,” Dr. Lathrop said.