It appears that, in America, cat owners may have to reassess the possibility of their cat being infected by a very nasty protozoan blood parasite which is often fatal and which is injected into the cat when bitten by a tick. The reassessment may be required because if cat owners thought that ticks were not a problem in their state they may find that this disease has advanced to the place where they are living.
The disease is cytauxzoonosis. It is caused by the protozoan blood parasite cytauxzoon felis. The infection normally causes a very severe illness and often death. All cats are susceptible to the infection and the infection has not been reported in other species of animal.
Bobcats are the reservoir host. It is believed that bobcats have developed a resistance to the infection. They develop a short lived illness and then recover. They are then a persistent carrier. When a tick feeds on an infected bobcat, the tick acquires the protozoan parasite. When the tick then feeds on a domestic cat the infection is passed to the cat.
The particular species of tick is the lone star tick. This is thought to be the predominant vector of this disease.
It is reported that many cats die within 24 hours of attending a veterinary clinic for treatment. The infection causes multi-organ failure and death within three weeks of infection.
The red areas of the map shows the states where this disease has been reported in domestic cats. The pink areas are where the disease has been reported to be in bobcats only.
Vets advise that cats should be kept indoors and if they go outdoors cat owners should use tick control products approved for cats. Initial symptoms are: lethargy, anorexia and fever. Within days the symptoms progress to breathing problems, severe weakness and “neurologic dullness”.