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Bobcat fever – it’s real and it can be deadly

June 04, 2021 - 00:00
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Decades ago, Ted Nugent had a hit song called “Cat Scratch Fever.” While Uncle Ted may or may not have been singing about a feline disease that can infect humans, there is a very real disease which is affecting our house cats called Bobcat Fever.

Cytauxzoonosis (aka Bobcat Fever) is an acute, often fatal tick-borne disease caused by the hematoprotozoan parasite Cytauxzoon felis. Bobcat Fever often strikes healthy, young adult cats who have access to or live outdoors. The Bobcat (Lynx rufus), is a reservoir for the disease which curiously enough has no effect on it. Bobcats are found all over the state of Georgia even frequenting urban areas. This means urbanites need to be aware of the disease as well.

Cats become infected after being bitten by an infected Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) known because of the single white mark visible on its back. Up to 15 days after being bitten, the cat will become ill with symptoms of lethargy and decreased appetite. Infected cats will have a high fever and may show signs of anemia (pale gums) and jaundice, yellow discoloration to the skin due to a build-up of bilirubin in the blood.

Bobcat fever results in protozoal sepsis, characterized by a systemic inflammatory response. The result of this inflammation is a high body temperature, increased respiratory rate, clotting abnormalities and damage to such organ systems as the liver and kidneys. The infection is often complicated by the formation of blood clots, which may result in reduced blood flow to vital organs. Without treatment, it can kill within a few days of symptoms appearing.

I asked Dr. Nancy Hinkle, UGA Extension Veterinary Entomologist for the state of Georgia, for input on how to prevent the disease in our feline pets. “First, keep your cats inside. Check your pets daily for ticks, both dogs and cats. Dogs living in the same household can pass ticks on to cats. Run your fingers through their fur feeling for the tick. If found, simply pull it off, no complicated device is needed.” Dr. Hinkle recommends that you hold any ticks found on your cat in a dated zip lock bag in the fridge. If your cat becomes sick the ticks can be tested to confirm the disease. She recommends consulting your veterinarian for advice on tick control products for your cat. She notes, “Flea products are worthless for tick control.” When asked about pesticides that control ticks in the landscape Dr. Hinkle replied, “While there are effective products, typically such applications provide little protection for the outdoor pet because they roam outside the boundaries of such treatment.”

Dr. Rusty Bean, Piedmont Animal Hospital Services in Gray says, “May-June and September-October are peak months for Bobcat Fever with many cases coming into our office for treatment.” Dr. Bean also related that it is a horrible disease, and expensive to treat properly. He says, “Older cats are more likely to die from Bobcat fever and they can have it more than once. Prevention should be given priority.” He reports that a new tick product for cats is coming on the market in mid June which should offer good efficacy in controlling the parasites.

The take home… keep your cats inside. Check with your family vet on the availability of the new product and other products they recommend for tick control to be used on your pets.