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Monitor Board of Contributors: Long live the barn cat

For the Monitor
Last modified: 2/25/2016 12:50:46 AM
Rodents have been the bane of farmers since farming began. Losses from rodents begin with them eating your grain and get worse from there.

Rodent droppings can contain harmful bacteria, such as salmonella, which can infect chickens, pigs and other animals, then cause illnesses in people when they eat the meat or eggs. Rodents can carry diseases such as hantavirus, which they shed in their urine, droppings and saliva. People can become infected when they breathe air that has been contaminated with the virus.

While not yet reported in New Hampshire, hantavirus has occurred in Vermont and Maine. Finally, rodents can carry parasites like fleas, which can harbor tapeworms and bacteria, and ticks that can carry diseases, such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.

For many of us who own farms, cats are one of the first lines of defense against rodents. Most people agree, if you have a good barn cat, chances are it is earning its keep.

Keeping your barn cats healthy will help them be more productive hunters. Be sure they have safe shelter, protected from wind, rain and snow. Always be sure they have a source of clean, fresh water. It’s important to feed your barn cats, because cats that need to kill rodents for their food tend to kill fewer rodents than cats who are hunting for fun.

Spaying or neutering barn cats prevents unwanted litters, and also keeps them on task. Unneutered males tend to roam and fight, and unspayed females entice feral males to your farm; both of these cases increase the risk of exposure to disease.

Vaccinating your barn cats protects them from painful illnesses, and in the cases of diseases like rabies – it protects you and your livestock as well. Vaccinating cats from feline-only diseases helps to keep all of your barn cats safe. In the event that an infected feral cat visits your farm, a disease outbreak could wipe out your barn cats, and some pathogens can remain in the environment for a long time. The cost of vaccines and an annual exam are cheap, and they’re an investment because they help prevent disease and keep your farm healthy.

Cats that eat rodents are highly susceptible to intestinal parasites, such as hookworms and whipworms. These parasites can live in the soil for a long time, and can infect your indoor pets and even cause a threat to humans, especially children. Parasite prevention in dogs and cats helps to halt the lifecycle of intestinal parasites, making your farm a safer place for the cats, dogs and humans that live there.

Feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus are among the most lethal feline diseases, and they’re very common. Infected cats don’t always show symptoms, but can easily spread the diseases. Testing your cats for these two diseases is an important aspect of barn cat health.

Many New Hampshire shelters have “barn cat” programs. Cats available through these programs are typically not well suited for indoor life as pets; some are feral or were found as strays and are unable to adapt to indoor life, others may have litter box “issues.”

Their adoption fee is usually low, and they’ll have been spayed/neutered, vaccinated, treated for fleas and mites, and tested for FIV/FeLV. You’ll need to confine your new barn cat in a safe cage inside your barn for the first few weeks until it acclimates to your farm.

Adopting a barn cat (or two) from a shelter is a good way to save cats who are unlikely to have any other options, but you must be committed to providing lifelong care. Barn cats can be a valuable asset to help manage rodents, which helps keep your livestock and family healthier. Investing in vaccinations, annual exams and parasite prevention for barn cats is money well spent.

(Danielle M. Eriksen lives in Weare.)


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