Did you know over 500 people are hospitalized each year from Cat Scratch Fever? This disease occurs when people are scratched or bitten by a cat infected with the Bartonella disease.
What is Bartonella?
Bartonella is a bacterial disease in cats that can be transmitted through fleas and ticks. It causes inflammatory reactions throughout multiple organ systems. It has been reported that healthy cats can carry up to seven members of the Bartonella bacterial family in their blood system. Cats can stay infected for several weeks to more than a year. About 30 percent of healthy cats in the United States are infected carriers. The highest infection rates occur in hot humid climates, where conditions are favorable for fleas and ticks. Bartonella is considered zoonotic, and can be spread to humans through cat scratches, bites, contact with fur and in rare cases directly from infected fleas and ticks.
Cats who originate as strays or live outdoors are at a higher risk of becoming infected with Bartonella, due to the likelihood of carrying fleas. Other risk factors include coming from a shelter, living in a multi-cat household, and being immunocompromised.
Cats infected with feline Bartonella can exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, from lethargy to a decreased appetite to neurologic dysfunction. Upon physical examination, your veterinarian may detect a fever, enlarged lymph nodes, skin rashes, heart murmurs, oral diseases such as gingivitis, stomatitis and ulcers, respiratory diseases such as rhinitis and sinusitis, and ocular diseases such as conjunctivitis (pink eye), uveitis, and corneal ulcers. In chronic long term cases intestinal diseases have been reported such as inflammatory bowel disease and chronic vomiting and diarrhea.
Bartonella testing is something that we commonly do here at VCMC. Because immunocompromised individuals are a risk factor, we often test for feline AIDS and Leukemia as well when testing for feline Bartonella. In addition, because many cats can be carriers of this disease and could potentially exhibit no clinical signs, our standard protocol at VCMC is to test all shelter cats for this disease, along with feline AIDS and Leukemia, once they are 6 months or older.
Therapy and Prevention
Antibiotic therapy for 3-4 weeks is effective for most cats carrying feline Bartonella. Owners should be careful while treating their cats to avoid being scratched or bitten. Six months after completing the course of antibiotics, your cat will be tested again, to make sure the infection was cleared. If necessary, a second round of antibiotics may be prescribed. At VCMC we believe that the best way to treat feline Bartonella is by preventing it in the first place. Therefore, we strongly urge all cat owners, whether their cats are indoor or outdoor, to apply a product called Revolution™ to the nape of their kitties neck once monthly to prevent against infection.
- Rebecca Cozzarelli, DVM