House Cats Falling Prey to "Bobcat Fever"

 |  Sep 8th 2010  |   6 Contributions


House cats are susceptible to Bobcat Fever, an almost always fatal disease spread by ticks.

In Carroll County, Arkansas, cat owners are learning an unfortunate lesson about the danger of interaction between house pets and wildcats.

Bobcat fever, or cytauxzoonosis, has been claiming the lives of beloved feline friends since 2000, when Cynthia Kress lost her cat, Hannah, to the disease.

Bobcat fever is not transmitted by a bacteria or virus. Instead, it is caused by Cytauxzoon felis, a blood parasite transmitted from bobcats to domestic cats through tick bites. Although the organism lies dormant in bobcats, it is almost always fatal in house cats.

Ticks are found in wooded areas and fields with high grasses. The insects are carried from one area to another by deer, dogs and other animals.

Bobcat fever comes on quickly and dramatically. One day the cat may be fine, and the next day he's lethargic, won't eat or drink, and can have a fever as high as 108 degrees Fahrenheit, and may have trouble breathing. Infected cats sometimes show signs of jaundice -- yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the gums.

Veterinarians need to use a blood test to diagnose bobcat fever, and sometimes the cat dies before the lab returns the results. But area vets have learned to be fairly certain of the diagnosis when a cat that is allowed outdoors comes in with the symptoms listed above.

Cytauxzoonosis was first discovered in Missouri in 1976. The disease occurs in several southeastern states, with a high number of cases found in Arkansas, and is seen most often from May through September. Treatment options are few and 90 to 95 percent of infected cats die.

One treatment program seems to be somewhat effective. About three years ago, Dr. Anthony Pike, of the Animal Hospital of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, participated in research which tested the effectiveness of a drug called Atovaquone, a drug used to treat Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) in humans. This medication, when combined with a broad-spectrum antibiotic and subcutaneous fluids, has been found to increase survival rates from 10 to 50 or 60 percent.

Two of the four cats Dr. Pike treated for cytauxzoonosis in 2010 survived, while two died. All cats received treatment with Atovaquone. Unfortunately, this medication is not widely available for use.

Dr. Pike adds that no research studies have indicated true effectiveness of any herbal product in the treatment of bobcat fever.

Recent research conducted at the University of Missouri has led to the identification of a genome for the disease. This breakthrough could lead to the development of effective medication to treat cytauxzoonosis and eventually to the production of a vaccine.

The most important thing cat owners can do to protect their cats from bobcat fever is to keep them indoors. If cats must go outside, they should only do so during the fall and winter.

Dr. Pike says he doesn't know of any tick control products that repel the offending parasite. Even products containing fipronil kill the tick only after it bites, and it's the first bite transmits the disease.

Area cat owners whose felines demonstrate any of the symptoms described above should seek veterinary treatment immediately.

Cytauxzoonosis is not contagious to dogs or humans.

[Source: Carroll County News]

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