Local News

Fatal tick-borne cat illness on the rise

Posted May 24, 2010 9:35 p.m. EDT

— 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.