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Bobcat Disease


Mark Hale, DVM

1661 E. Mt. Gilead Road

Bolivar, Missouri  65613





            A highly fatal disease of domestic felines has become more and more prevalent in this area over the past few summers. Cytauxzoonosis (pronounced "site a zo a no sis") is a parasite of the blood cells of cats. This tiny organism is also found in bobcats and the Florida panther, but does not appear to cause disease in these species.

            When a tick becomes infected from a bobcat and then bites a domestic cat, the symptoms usually begin in about 10 days. Interestingly, a transfusion of infected blood does not appear to cause the disease so the tick is necessary for its spread.

             The progression of signs the infected cat may show include not eating, lethargy, rapid breathing, and depression. These are followed by pale mucous membranes, fever, jaundice, and then coma and death. This can all happen in 1-6 days. As you can see, the early signs could be symptoms of a lot of different diseases of cats. This makes diagnosis difficult in the early stages. Some cases I have seen have also had seizures and other neurologic signs. Characteristic changes in bloodwork, as well as ruling out other diseases with similar signs (such as feline leukemia virus and Hemobartonella), can help in the diagnosis. Finding the actual organism in biopsies or blood smears is the only way to get a definitive diagnosis.

           Most veterinarians used to be forced to euthanize or watch these cats suffer and die. Now there are some medications, used in combination with aggressive supportive therapy, that can save a good percentage of affected cats. It must be started early before too much damage is done. I usually place a feeding tube also for better nutrition assistance.

            The main lesson to learn from all of this is that even one tick bite to your beloved cat could be fatal. Tick control and keeping your cat indoors are the only methods of prevention. All too often I have seen an infected cat that the owner "only lets outside for an hour or so". While we may think that we are being kind by letting it outside, one bite from an infected tick can mean almost certain death. Most cases of this occur during peak tick season, which in this area is usually May - October. There are other diseases of cats that can look very similar, so if your feline friend starts showing these symptoms have them examined as soon as possible. If you have any questions about this or other feline health care subjects, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Hale.