Veterinarians at Mississippi State University are urging cat owners to practice effective tick control on their pets after the emergence of a parasitic blood infection they call a â€œdeath sentence.â€
After examining the unexplained deaths of several cats in the state, the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Health Center revealed that their death was due to an infection called cytauxzoonosis.
A microscopic protozoan (Cytauxzoon felis) causes the infection when it reproduces within the inside lining of blood vessels. It blocks the flow of blood to vital organs.
Cytauxzoonâ€™s natural host is a bobcat, which suffers no health problems from the organism. It becomes a pathogen after being ingested by the American dog tick. If the tick then attaches to a domestic cat for a blood meal, it injects a parasite that quickly becomes virulent in the catâ€™s system.
There is no cure for this disease, Dr. Sharon Grace, clinical professor and feline specialist, said in a news release about the infection. â€œOwners need to apply a topical product that will kill ticks that carry the pathogen.â€
To be effective, the product must contain fipronil for tick control, Grace said. Dog owners should practice tick control on those pets, also, and examine themselves for ticks as well. The American dog tick, or Dermacentor variabilis, carries the disease and can hitchhike from dogs or humans to cats, even those that live inside. But dogs cannot contract the disease and neither can humans.
From The Clarion Ledger:
â€œThis terrible disease is difficult to diagnose and treat, fatal in most cats, and hard to observe in a patient dying of it,â€ Grace said. â€œThe goal is to identify the disease early enough so that the veterinarian can humanely euthanize the cat to prevent further suffering.â€
Cats usually show symptoms within several days to two weeks of being bitten by a carrier tick, according to the news release. They become depressed, listless and refuse to eat and drink. They look jaundiced and have a paleness around their gums, nose and eye tissue. They have an extreme fever as high as 108 degrees and may radiate heat to the touch and loudly vocalize its constant pain.
There also is no threat to other animals, and infected cats cannot give the disease to other cats.