Tick-caused bobcat fever can be deadly to domestic cats

June 25, 2013 by Lindsey Elliott, Kansas State University
Close-up of a lone star tick. Credit: Michael Dryden

(Medical Xpress)—Kansas State University veterinarians are warning pet owners to watch out for ticks carrying a disease that could kill cats.

Cytauxzoon felis, also known as bobcat fever, is a that infects and has a very high death rate. Susan Nelson, a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at Kansas State University's Veterinary Health Center, says this was thought to be carried only by the American dog tick, but now may be carried by the lone star tick, which is quite prevalent in northeast Kansas.

"Most people have probably seen a lone star tick even if they're not familiar with them by name," Nelson said. "They're the ones that have a bright white spot on their back."

Bobcat fever does not affect humans or dogs. It is called bobcat fever because are considered the main reservoir for the disease, as it is typically not fatal for them.

Most cases of bobcat fever occur from March through September, which coincides with the times cats are most likely to encounter ticks. Late spring and early summer are the peak times for ticks in Kansas.

Nelson says cats that live outside the city boundaries are at a higher risk of getting bobcat fever because they are more likely to encounter ticks in a rural environment; however, that doesn't necessarily mean that your city-living kitty can't get the disease. If your cat has contracted the disease, it can be anywhere from five to 20 days before symptoms appear.

"First, you're probably going to notice they're going to be really lethargic and tired," Nelson said. "Their appetite is going to decrease. They may feel very hot to you as they will tend to run a high fever early in the course of the disease. As the disease progresses, you might see , dehydration and the whites of their eyes or the inside of their ears might start looking yellow as they start getting jaundiced. Their body temperature will start to drop as they near the end stages of the disease."

A cat may be infected even if you don't see a tick on the animal, because the tick may have already fed and dropped off the cat before the animal starts showing symptoms of the disease.

No vaccine is available for this disease. Treatment can be expensive and often unsuccessful, so it is important to take precautionary steps to keep your cat from being bitten. Nelson says the best thing to do is to keep your cat indoors. If you can't do that, then keep your yard well maintained—it's a myth that ticks from fall from trees.

"If your cat likes to stay in the yard, try to keep your grass mowed down so it's not tall," she said. "The ticks tend to like the taller grasses. Keep the shrubbery trimmed short and remove debris around your house. Do daily tick checks on the cats and remember to look between their toes. If your cat lives with a dog, make sure you are using some type of tick control on the dog as it can bring ticks into your house, which can then feed on your cat."

Nelson also suggests talking to your veterinarian about types of tick control medications to determine which is best for your pet.

Tick expert Michael Dryden, university distinguished professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at Kansas State University, tracks the lone star and says they are mainly found in eastern Kansas and in the Southeastern states. So far, he has not found any lone star ticks west of Clay Center, Kan., but he expects its territory will expand.

Explore further: Biologist focuses on bloodsucking ticks, disease ecology

Related Stories

Biologist focuses on bloodsucking ticks, disease ecology

June 24, 2013
Ticks—the eight-legged bloodsuckers that most of us avoid—are fascinating to Assistant Professor of Biology Andrea Swei. She studies how ticks interact with the lizards, birds and mammals they feed on and looks at how ...

Tick in man's ear gives him tinnitus

September 21, 2012
(HealthDay)—When a 63-year-old man went to a hospital in Switzerland to report a buzzing in his ear, the staff got more than they bargained for when they looked inside. A tick was attached to his eardrum, and it possibly ...

Large-scale study of preventive antibiotic usage against Lyme disease

April 16, 2013
Today, at the start of the "Tick Week", the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and Wageningen University are commencing a large-scale study to discover whether preventive use of antibiotics can ...

Tick season starting early this year

April 23, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Tick season has started earlier than normal due to the mild winter, which means hikers, gardeners and others who love the outdoors should take precautions to prevent becoming a meal for ticks, an expert says.

Precautions for tick-borne disease extend "beyond lyme"

September 7, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—This year's mild winter and early spring were a bonanza for tick populations in the eastern United States. Reports of tick-borne disease rose fast.

Recommended for you

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.