Mycoplasma in Cats
by Elisa Black-Taylor
Lilo day before death
I'd never heard of Mycoplasma in cats until a reader wrote in about this article and suggested mycoplasma as a cause of death (see: Help Sudden Kitten Death). So I decided to do a little research on the subject. I'll be learning about this illness as I write today's story.
Mycoplasma are single cell organisms similar to bacteria, and are the smallest free-living, self-replicating organisms known. Unlike bacteria that have a rigid cell wall, Mycoplasma have thin, flexible membranes, which contain its cytoplasma. This lack of a cell wall allows Mycoplasma to resist many of the antibiotics that are useful against most bacteria. Mycoplasma are difficult to detect in human and animal specimens and difficult to culture in the laboratory (source: http://allanimaleyeclinic.com).
Mycoplasma until recently has been referred to as feline infectious anemia (see another article that refers to this condition). This is a term I'm VERY familiar with as one of the kittens I was supposed to rescue at GCAC in Greenville, SC died of the illness. This occurred over the same weekend Lilo and Stitch were in critical condition. Lilo and Stitch made it through than weekend. A gold tabby kitten named Froggie did not. Hemobartonella felis, the official term, was first discovered in 1942 in Africa.
This is a very scary illness in that it mimics other viral and bacterial infections. Feline conjunctivitis (cat pink eye), coughing, sneezing and trouble urinating are just a few of the symptoms. This disease is scary because it’s very hard to diagnose. The mycoplasma organism will attach itself to a host (usually caused by a flea bite) and sit there outside the cells waiting for a cat’s immune system to react. Once the immune system detects foreign proteins on the red blood cells it begins an attack using the cats antibodies to destroy the red blood cells. It’s a difficult organism to culture because it requires a live host to thrive.
An infected cat may eat cat litter in an attempt to replace iron lost to the organism.
Mycoplasma species are part of the internal flora of the eye and also the upper respiratory tract of a cat and has been shown to be a major cause of these conditions.
Most cat blood sent for lab work is visually scanned for the organism, but a cat infected may still not be diagnosed due to, how should I put this, sneakiness of the organism. Once a specimen is taken from a cat, the organism doesn’t remain visible for very long and can be easily missed. Molecular detection by PCR (polymerase chain reaction) seems to offer the best way of identifying Mycoplasma. The test to ask for is B0050 and is included on a P0020 feline respiratory panel.
However, many vets who suspect Mycoplasma illness in cats will go ahead and begin a three week round of antibiotics. It’s far easier to treat than to diagnose. The antibiotic doxycycline is the drug of choice as it comes in an oral form. Predisone is also used to slow down the removal of red blood cells until the illness can be got under control.
This disease, if you can call it that, is like most cat diseases and affects the very young and those with compromised immune systems. It remains in the system of the cat for life and may recur due to stress, weakness, illness, etc.
I’m seriously beginning to believe this is what a few of my kittens died of. Lilo had been on antibiotics for ten days. If was only a few days after she came off of the antibiotics that the infections circled back around and she was dead within a day. Sugar Pie was the same, except she didn’t have any respiratory symptoms.
Sometimes the illness doesn’t produce visible symptoms. With Lilo and Sugar dead, I rushed Vine to my vet and he prescribed antibiotics for all of my kittens as a precaution. We’ve had all of them on Zeniquin and so far no more deaths.
I want to urge everyone to please watch your kittens. We thought we had this thing licked and it doubled back on us faster than we knew what we were up against. If your cat becomes ill again immediately after going off of antibiotics for a respiratory infection, DO NOT WAIT! See a vet immediately. It only took 36 hours for Lilo to go from stuffy nose to death!
I’m not giving you a lot of homework with this story. More can be found online by entering “mycoplasma” and “conjunctivitis mycoplasma.” The latter really scares me because almost every kitten I’ve rescued has come home with this. I hope I’ve kept this information simple enough to understand while at the same time not sounding ignorant by not using a lot of scientific terms.
In closing, I'd like to add Mycoplasma can also be transmitted to humans. Please read this!