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Fatal tick-borne cat illness on the rise

Posted May 24, 2010

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— Veterinarians at North Carolina State University on Monday reported a rise in the cases of a tick-transmitted infectious disease, which can be fatal to cats.

Cytauxzoonosis is related to malaria and is caused by the parasite Cytauxzoon felis (C. felis), which is found in ticks.

The most common symptoms of infection are lack of energy and appetite, usually accompanied by fever. Some cats also develop a yellow discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

“Between 1998 and 2004 we saw a series of 34 cases from North and South Carolina and Virginia,” Dr. Adam Birkenheuer, associate professor of internal medicine at N.C. State, said in a statement. “When it was first recognized in our region, we might see one case per year in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Now we see one-to-two cases per week during the peak months (May-July) with many other consults that are not referred. We have already seen three cases in the past two weeks, which is pretty remarkable for an infection that is not ‘supposed to be here.’”

The disease seems to occur in hotspots with some households having several cats acquiring the disease.

The majority of cases have come from Pittsboro, Southern Pines and coastal areas, Birkenheuer said. However, cases have also come from other parts of the Triangle including Wake Forest, Rolesville and eastern Raleigh.

Testing for the disease is relatively simple and a veterinarian can usually make the diagnosis by examining a blood smear or cells from infected tissues.

The best protection against Cytauxzoonosis is to keep cats indoors and use a treatment that is approved to kill ticks on cats, Birkenheuer said.

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  • HannahF May 25, 2010

    I work at a veterinary hospital in Durham, and one of my co-worker's brought in her cat on Thursday because he was very sick. We did bloodwork and sent it off to the lab and it came back that he had a blood parasite. The lab did more tests and the result was Cytauxzoonosis. Since there is not much that can be done to cure this disease other than supportive care, my co-worker and the vet decided the best thing was euthanasia. This was a very sad day because it hit home. He was allowed to go outside and his owner used Advantage Multi. However, the only safe tick prevention for cats is Frontline Plus. PLEASE don't go through the same pain and heartache that the staff at this hospital did. I have 2 cats, and I also use Advantage Multi on them but they stay inside and my dogs get K9 Advantix. Keep your pets safe! Use flea/tick prevention on all of your dogs and cats and keep your cats inside. They may be unhappy for a little while but they will be much safer and live longer healthier lives.

  • artmusicsoul May 25, 2010

    It's a pretty bad way to go for a cat. My first cat lived to be 13 years old, traveled with us all over the United States, then got this disease in 2007 and he had to be euthanized. Still miss him. Protect your pets, guys!

  • sillywabbitthepatriot May 25, 2010

    I love cats...

  • lauraleigh May 25, 2010

    If towns would be more reasonable about keeping poultry, a lot of tick problems would be taken care of. Chickens and their cousins, guinea fowl and bantams, do a great job of reducing the populations of ticks and other nasty bugs. Then we, and our pets, would be healthier and happier.

  • estrauch May 25, 2010

    As unfortunate as it is, ticks are a terrible nuisance to people and animals. I would say treat your pets as you do yourself and children. Any time you spend a lengthy amount of time outside, make sure to check your clothes and yourself thoroughly for ticks. It's really a no brainer! I found a tick on me yesterday and freaked out! I had heard in the news months back that this spring/summer was going to be bad for them. Guess they were right. Ugh!

  • McLovin May 25, 2010

    I hate cats...

  • 3stoogesfan May 25, 2010

    There are going to be some unhappy cats when they realize they can't go outside anymore. I have 3 kitties and they're primarily indoors but my cat Buster loves to stroll outside for a little while in the late afternoons. He was already banned from going outside at nighttime because he wandered out of our yard and went missing for 2 days after a storm.

  • itsmyownopinion May 25, 2010

    Although we need to stay informed, I hate to hear about this -- something else to worry about while trying to keep the indoor/outdoor cat who adopted me happy, while I thought I only had to worry about and watch for the coyotes. I hate ticks, have already had two attached to my leg and found another crawling.