Kansas State University veterinarians are warning pet owners to watch out for ticks carrying a disease that could kill household cats. The scientific name is Cytauxzoon Felis but more simply people are calling it bobcat fever.
“Bobcat fever is a blood parasite that affects our domestic cats and it spreads through a tick bite,” said Susan Nelson, a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at K-State University. “It’s felt that the reservoir of bobcats, bobcats get infected but they don’t get as infected as severely as our domestic cats do, so they kind of keep that going in the population.”
A certain type of tick is known for carrying this disease. It’s called the “lone-star tick”.
“Most people have probably seen a loan star tick, even if you aren’t familiar with them, they are the ones that have a bright white spot on the back of them,” said Nelson.
Bobcat fever doesn’t infect humans or dogs but Nelson warns to check dogs for ticks, too. Dogs could carry the ticks and then drop them inside the home and this gives them a chance to find house cats indoors.
“One of these ticks bites your cat and it happens to be carrying this disease, it can transmit it onto your cat,” said Nelson.
A cat could be infected even if a tick isn’t found on the animal – it could have already fed and dropped off. 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,” said Nelson. “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 breathing problems, 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.”
No vaccine is available for this disease. Treatment is expensive and rarely works so Nelson advises cat owners to use flea drops and/or collars that repel ticks. Another thing cat-owners can do if they let their kitty outside is to keep their grass mowed short. Often, ticks like tall grass and can be found there and by keeping it cut short, it should reduce the number of ticks they can pick up. They aren’t only found in trees. Also, check cats and dogs for ticks often.
“Keep the shrubbery trimmed short and remove debris around your house,” said Nelson. “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 veterinarians about types of tick control medications to determine which is best for your household pets.