By Lori Blankenship, Ph.D., DVM, CVA
Do your cat’s gums look like this?
Does your cat have chronic inflammation in his/her eyes, ears, skin, or gastrointestinal tract?
If there is an animal that likes to create inflammation in their body, it is the cat. When we see a cat in our practice, it is commonly for an inflammatory problem. Most common areas of inflammation in a cat include eyes, nose, mouth, lungs, bladder, skin, and gastrointestinal tract. There are many names for the diseases of inflammation that affect cats. Historically we treat these cats for their individual inflammatory diseases but do not find a cause. Often this treatment is frustrating at best with only short-term relief of the chronic disease being the result.
There is one disease that can be responsible for causing widespread inflammation in cats and that is Bartonella. This disease is caused by the same bacteria that causes Cat Scratch Disease and many other diseases in humans. Cats can be carriers for life and never show signs of disease while continuing to put the humans that interact with them at risk of contracting the disease. Fleas, ticks, biting flies, and lice spread Bartonella. Humans are known to contract Bartonella from cats through cat bites or the common scratch. Humans can also contract Bartonella if an infected flea or tick bites them.
In our practice we are now recommending that all cats be tested for Bartonella regardless of the presence of symptoms. The widespread nature of this disease is highlighted in the recent research, which shows that 49% of the 53,406 cats with known risk factors tested positive for the disease. Risk factors included being a stray cat or shelter cat, presence of fleas, cats living in multi-cat households, and cats living with known Bartonella infected cats. Unfortunately these risk factors are present in most of the cats that we see in our practice, while the purebred cat seems to be only affected less than 30% of the time. So far of the cats tested by our practice 86% have been positive. We have tested cats with symptoms of inflammation as well as cats living with Bartonella positive cats.
We currently recommend that all cats be tested for Bartonella. Given the potential to transmit this disease to humans, we would like all of our clients to know the status of their cats. If a cat is positive, treatment with a 21-day course of antibiotics is appropriate. The result of this treatment can be determined in 6 months when the cat can be retested to make sure that the Bartonella titer has decreased and the cat is clear of infection. In the meantime any inflammatory condition should resolve or significantly improve.
For the past year we have been treating a household of 10 cats. One of the cats had such severe inflammation of his gums that all of his teeth were extracted under the guidance of a board certified veterinary dentist. Recently we were called to check another of the cats with very red gums and difficulty eating. We decided to test all 10 cats for Bartonella all but one of the cats tested high positive. We are in the process of treating all of 9 cats for 21 days with the appropriate antibiotic. The inflammation of the gums is better in the affected cat and we are happy to be part of the eradication of disease in this household.
Vet’s Corner is sponsored by Animals First Veterinary Service
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Meet the vet: Lori Blankenship received her B.S. in biology from Indiana University of Pennsylvannia in 1989, Ph.D. in genetic toxicology from George Washington University in 1996 and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 2000.