Although the disease is not new to the state, these cases have prompted veterinarians to stress the importance of tick control to pet owners.
“The key to protecting your cat is prevention because there is no cure for this disease,” said Sharon Grace, DVM, clinical professor at Mississippi State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine. “Owners need to apply a topical product that will kill ticks that carry the pathogen.”
Even indoor cats need tick control because the American dog tick, the carrier of the disease which picks up the pathogen from an infected bobcat, can unknowingly be brought into the house by a human or a dog, she said.
The product must contain fipronil for tick control to be effective, Dr. Grace said.
Dogs cannot contract the disease and neither can humans. Also, infected cats cannot give the disease to other cats.
“This terrible disease is difficult to diagnose and treat, fatal in most cats, and hard to observe in a patient dying of it,” she said. “The goal is to identify the disease early enough so that the veterinarian can humanely euthanize the cat to prevent further suffering.”
Symptoms, which can be confused with other diseases such as mycoplasma, toxoplasmosis and feline infectious peritonitis, include becoming depressed and listless, and refusing to eat and drink. Cats can look jaundiced and have a paleness around their gums, nose and eye tissue. An extreme fever as high as 108 degrees is the most observable sign, according to MSU.
Cytauxzoonosis, which was first discovered in Missouri and eastern Oklahoma in about 1973, is being reported more often and is moving boundaries.
The seasonal movement of bobcats and ticks has distributed the disease through much of the south and the eastern seaboard of the United States. There is evidence the disease is also moving north, Grace said.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions and more research is needed to get a better understanding of the disease, Grace said.