Cytauxzoonosis (Bobcat Fever)
Bobcat fever, also called cytauxzoonosis, is a serious and often fatal disease in cats. It is called bobcat fever because bobcats are considered the natural reservoir for the disease. It affects all members of the cat family, yet is limited to only cats. Dogs and people can’t get the disease.
Cytauxzoonosis is caused by a protozoan parasite called Cytauxzoon felis. Several types of protozoa can cause disease in pets. Ticks on cats spread bobcat fever, and the lone star tick is the primary one. The American dog tick may also carry it. The disease was first reported in 1976 in south central United States – Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
Today Bobcat Fever has spread to many states; mostly in the southeastern, south central, and mid-Atlantic areas. The disease tends to follow the same distribution as the lone star tick. Cases are usually seen from April through September, as this is when the ticks are most active. Ticks can carry other diseases like Lyme disease, for example, and this is why keeping your pet on prevention year-round is best!
Signs of Cytauxzoonosis
Cats can only get Cytauxzoonosis from the bite of a tick carrying it. Fortunately, it can’t be spread from cat to cat, only by ticks on cats. The parasite invades the blood cells and is frequently fatal. The first signs are lethargy, depression, not wanting to eat and a high fever, hence the term Bobcat Fever. It can cause anemia, jaundice, difficulty breathing and enlarged lymph nodes. Unfortunately, most cats will die within a few days to a week after signs start.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Cytauxzoonosis is diagnosed by seeing the parasites on blood smears and/or other tests.Cats are treated with IV fluids. Some will need blood transfusions if their anemia is severe.
Unfortunately, most drugs don’t help much. A newer treatment that includes a combination of a specific antibiotic with an antimalarial drug has been more effective than other drugs. In one study, about 60% of the cats treated with this combination survived.
However, the antimalarial drug may not be readily available and is expensive. A few cats will survive even without these drugs, but early treatment is important. These cats are usually not eating or drinking and there are several other complications of the disease. The ones who survive have a milder form. Some cats that recover will become chronic carriers of the parasite. This means they have it in their blood, but they don’t have any signs of illness themselves. If a tick bites them, however, the ticks on cats can pick up the infection to pass along to other cats.
Prevention of Cytauxzoonosis
There is no vaccine to protect your cat against Cytauxzoonosis. The best method of prevention is to keep your cat indoors. Unless you or your dog brings ticks into the house, your cat should be safe. If your cat goes outdoors, use an effective tick product made for cats. Some tick products are only made for dogs and are toxic to cats.
Not all flea products kill ticks and not all tick products kill the ticks that carry bobcat fever. Read labels carefully. Make sure the product you are using will kill Lone Star Ticks and the American Dog Ticks on cats.
Be sure to reapply the product regularly throughout the year and as frequently as the package says. Don’t skip doses and don’t try to spread them further apart. Ticks are hard to kill under the best of circumstances so you don’t want to try to skimp on treatment.
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