Fatal cat disease case prompts experts to urge pet owners to control ticks

Published 4:33 pm Friday, August 3, 2007

Pet owners should practice effective tick control to make sure their cats don’t contract a deadly feline disease that has emerged in the state, veterinarians at Mississippi State University said.

A cat that died at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicines Animal Health Center had cytauxzoonosis, a parasitic blood infection that is fatal for felines. There have also been a few reports of unexplained cat deaths in Mississippi.

“The key to protecting your cat is prevention because there is no cure for this disease,” said Dr. Sharon Grace, clinical professor and feline specialist.

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People who have both dogs and cats should make sure all their animals are tick free because the tick that carries the disease, the American dog tick, can hitchhike from dogs or humans to cats, Grace said. The disease is carried by bobcats, though those animals are not affected by it.

Pet Owners should apply a topical product containing fipronil, which will kill ticks that carry the disease.

“This terrible disease is difficult to diagnose and treat, fatal in most cats, and hard to observe in a patient dying of it,” Grace said.

Cytauxzoonosis (pronounced sy-toe-zo-ono-sis) blocks the flow of blood to vital organs.

“The animal suffers an agonizing death within a short time from the start of the infection, Grace said.

Dr. Mark Russak, a primary care veterinarian at the Animal Health Center, said cats are notorious for hiding their symptoms so their owners have to be observant.

Symptoms usually emerge within several days to two weeks of a cat being bitten by a carrier tick and the animals become listless, and refuse to eat and drink. They look jaundiced and have a paleness around their gums, nose and eye tissue, he said.

The most observable sign of the disease is an extreme fever.