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Cytauxzoonosis felis, A Tick born disease
Letting their cat outdoors may seem like a perfectly natural thing to do for some cat owners, but this action does expose the cat to many perils. Besides the potential hazards of poisonings, collision with cars or becoming a victim of cat fights or cat abusers, the cats also must fight off other dangers.
Recently arriving on the outdoor scene is a nasty disease carried by the American Dog Tick called cytauxzoonosis felis. This protozoan disease is currently affecting cats in the southeastern and south central United States. Cats are not the resident host of this disease, Bobcats and the Lynx are. Domestic cats are considered the accidental host.
The tick will latch on to the cat and begin to feed. During this feeding process is when the protozoa are unleashed into the cat’s system. There is an incubation period of 5-20 days. In this time period, the tick often leaves after gorging itself on the cat’s blood. The protozoon works its damage through the cat’s central nervous system primarily blocking the flow of blood to vital organs. It also occupies the cat’s bone marrow, spleen, liver, kidneys, brain and lymph nodes.
The symptoms come on unexpectedly. The cat can be perfectly healthy one minute, then suddenly fever develops. The cat refuses food, losing weight rapidly, depression, dehydration and low red blood cell count follows. The cat will develop respiratory distress, its ears, paws and skin will begin to turn yellow. The gums turn a pasty white. Death will occur if the cat is not treated immediately, and even with treatment, survival rates are slim (about 5%).
Treatment of Cytauxzoon felis
Supportive care includes subcutaneous fluids and blood transfusions to attempt to flush out the system. If the cats survive the initial infection, diminazene may be prescribed or imidocarb are the drugs of choice. Aggressive force feeding will be implemented to increase the cat’s chance of recovery.
For outdoor cats in tick-infested areas, tick treatment is imperative. Frontline-Plus, Revolution are the two preventatives that also stop ticks.
Talk to your veterinarian about what he recommends. Do not freely use over-the-counter tick and flea products without first checking with your veterinarian. Read the labels carefully. Never use products that are for dogs on cats.
Cytauxzoon felis is species specific which means humans and other animals cannot catch this disease. Other cats aren’t infected when exposed to the sick cat, but keeping your cat isolated during recovery will help lower the cat’s stress level and speed up healing. Prevention would be to keep your cat indoors at all times. If this is not possible, keep the cat inside during the heaviest tick infestation (the warmer months are when these ticks are most prevalent).