--- Matt Daugherty/The Capital-Journal

"I don't like telling a client that I can't treat their pet."

--- DR. MICHAEL KOBUSZEWSKI, Indian Creek Veterinary Hospital


The Capital-Journal

Topeka-area vets are seeing cases of a deadly cat disease for which there is no known treatment.

Cytauxzoon felis is a blood-borne parasite carried by the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, said Dr. Michael Kobuszewski, with Indian Creek Veterinary Hospital, 140 N.E. 46th. Kobuszewski saw his first infected cat two weeks ago. Bobcats, which are immune to the parasite, are the carriers of this organism. The tick bites an infected bobcat, picks up the parasite with its blood meal, then feeds on a domestic cat, infecting the cat.

The parasite infects red blood cells, lymph nodes, liver and spleen of the cat, causing hemorrhages, Kobuszewski said. Treatment with intravenous fluids and steroids only buys the cat a few hours of life.

"I've never seen an animal die as fast as when they come in with this," said Dr. Steven L. Rogers, with Shawnee Animal Hospital, 2113 S.W. Gage. "One cat was normal in the morning, was really sick when I saw him at 3 p.m. and was dead the next day."

Rogers said he was probably the first Topeka-area veterinarian to start seeing cases. He has seen three cases in the past six weeks, and has heard of at least nine more. Generally, cats die within 48 hours of showing symptoms, which can include lethargy, anemia, a high fever and jaundice.

Cytauxzoon felis isn't new --- it was first detected in the United States in 1976 in Florida --- but it mostly has been confined to the Southwestern states, Kobuszewski said.

"I've been a vet for 31 years, and I've never seen it before," Rogers said.

Dr. Lisa Moore, assistant professor at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and a specialist in small animal internal medicine, said K-State has been seeing quite a few cases of Cytauxzoon in the past few years, usually in the spring. She has heard reports of a few cats in other states who have survived after being treated with imidocarb, an anti-parasite drug, and there also may be a strain of Cytauxzoon that is less deadly, but so far, all of the infected cats K-State has treated have died.

The mild winter has made this a good year for ticks as well as fleas, and with an abundance of wild turkeys for the bobcats to feed on, Kobuszewski predicts veterinarians will be seeing more cases of Cytauxzoon felis. The disease doesn't affect dogs.

Cytauxzoon is one of four cat diseases for which there is no cure; the other three are feline leukemia, feline AIDS and FIP or feline infectious peritonitis, Kobuszewski said. There are vaccines available for FIP and feline leukemia, but none for Cytauxzoon or feline AIDS.

Tick control is the best defense against Cytauxzoon, and several veterinarians recommended Frontline's Top Spot, a liquid applied to the base of a cat's neck. Even with an effective tick prevention product, a tick could still bite and infect a cat before the product kills the tick, but applying the product reduces the odds of that happening, Rogers said. Flea-and-tick collars aren't very effective, said Dr. Jeffrey L. Myers, with Veterinary Medical & Surgical Hospital, 1515 S.W. 29th.

Homeowners also can have their yards treated for ticks and fleas, but if a cat is an outdoor pet, it is probably wandering in other yards as well, said Dr. Larry Fischer, Western Hills Veterinary Hospital, 2101 S.W. 10th.

Keeping your cats indoors is probably the best strategy, but pet owners need to keep in mind that an indoor cat could always slip out an open door or be exposed to ticks and fleas brought in by humans or other outdoor pets. All cats should be vaccinated, whether they are indoor or outdoor cats, Fischer said.

Kobuszewski recommended that cat owners contact their local veterinarian for advice on how best to prevent their pet falling prey to this parasite.

"I don't like telling a client that I can't treat their pet," he said.

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