Bobcat Fever killing area house cats

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

By Darlene Simmons

Special to the Carroll County News

An informal club is alive and well in the Eureka Springs area, one whose membership is constantly increasing, despite the fact that no one wants to join.

House cats are susceptible to Bobcat Fever, an almost always fatal disease spread by ticks.

Mark Wilson first became a member in 2005 when he fashioned a homemade coffin for Stormy, "the best cat I ever had."

Cynthia Kresse initially joined the group in 2000, with the passing of Hannah, then reluctantly renewed her membership in 2007 with the death of Theo.

Victoria Marshall paid dearly for her affiliation--she buried all three of her cats in one week.

This "club" consists of those unfortunate cat owners who have lost a dear pet to Bobcat Fever, or Cytauxzoonosis. My husband, Jim, and I avoided membership by the skin of our teeth this spring, when our cat Brody became gravely ill with Bobcat Fever.

Brody recovered fully. Unfortunately, we did join the group of grieving pet owners a few weeks ago, when Dory, our second cat to become infected, struggled in vain to take one last breath.

These are only a few of the stories you will hear from heartbroken cat owners around the area. The losses of pet cats from Bobcat Fever are high and the disease itself is brutal.

Bobcat Fever is caused by the blood parasite Cytauxzoon Felis, an organism that lies dormant in the bobcat. When spread to domestic cats through the bite of a common tick, the disease is almost always fatal.

This tick is found in wooded areas and fields with high grasses, and is carried from one area to another by deer, dogs, or other animals.

The onset of Bobcat Fever is rapid and the symptoms dramatic. One day the cat may be just fine, then the next day the cat is without energy, reluctant to eat or drink, can have a fever as high as 108 degrees, and may have difficulty breathing.

The animal may show signs of jaundice, where the white of the eyes becomes yellow and the gums and nose pale in color. The disease infects cats only; neither dogs nor humans are susceptible.

Bobcat Fever must be diagnosed by a blood test, and sometimes the cat dies before the lab work returns to the veterinarian. A savvy vet can be fairly certain of the diagnosis by the presence of the above symptoms in a cat that is allowed outdoors.

Cytauxzoonosis was first discovered in Missouri in 1976. The disease occurs in several southeastern states, with a high number of cases found in Arkansas. Seen most often from May through September, treatment options are few and 90-95 percent of infected cats die.

The good news is that recent research conducted at the University of Missouri has led to the identification of a genome for the disease. Such a breakthrough could lead to the development of a medication for effective treatment and eventually to the production of a vaccine.

About three years ago, Dr. Anthony Pike, of the Animal Hospital of Eureka Springs, participated in research which tested the effectiveness of a drug called Atovaquone. This medication, when combined with a broad spectrum antibiotic and subcutaneous fluids, has been found to increase survival rates from 10 to 50 or 60 percent.

How many cats are affected in our area? During a bad season, Dr. Pike has treated as many as one per week. This year, he has seen only four, two of which were our cats, Brody and Dory.

Two of the four cats Dr. Pike treated survived while two died. All cats received treatment with Atovaquone. Unfortunately, this medication is not widely available for use.

Brody received Atovaquone that was left over from the research study; Dr. Pike had to have medication made up by a pharmacist and shipped to Eureka Springs for the treatment of Dory.

What can be done to protect your cat from this terrible disease? Dr. Pike knows of no tick control product which will repel the offending parasite. Even products containing fipronil kill the tick only after it bites, and that first bite transmits the disease.

Dr. Pike encourages cat owners to keep their pets indoors. He suggests that if the cat must go outdoors, access should be restricted to the fall and winter months.

Finally, should your cat demonstrate any of the symptoms described above, seek veterinary treatment immediately. Dr. Pike adds that no research studies have indicated true effectiveness of any herbal product in the treatment of Bobcat Fever.

Brody and Dory were both adopted from the Good Shepherd shelter and because they looked so much alike, they were often mistaken for brothers. Both cats were young, healthy and handsome buff-colored males.

Brody and Dory were close friends, engaging each other in play and cleaning each other's coats with vigor.

The past few days a dejected Brody was seen looking through all the old hiding places, searching for his beloved pal. Yesterday Brody discovered a new kitten in one of Dory's old spots.

This kitten will be an inside cat only, so Brody should have this little friend for a long, long time!

And Jim and I will never again renew our membership in such an ugly and depressing club!

Darlene Simmons is a volunteer at the Good Shepherd Humane Society.

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