What is Anaplasmosis in Cats?
Anaplasmosis, a disease transmitted through ticks, predominantly affects humans, canines, and various animals. However, feline cases, though infrequent, do occur.
When a cat gets bitten by a tick carrying the Anaplasma phagocytophilum bacteria, there's a risk of developing anaplasmosis. For the disease to pass on, the tick must be latched onto the cat for at least a day.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights the presence of anaplasmosis throughout the U.S. The prevalence is notably higher in regions such as the Northeast, Midwest, and the Pacific coastline, particularly in places teeming with ticks. In the Northeast, the months of May, June, and October record the highest infection rates.
Symptoms of Anaplasmosis in Cats
Cats might start displaying various symptoms within several days to a week post-tick bite. These can include:
- Stiff, painful joints
- Dark, bloody stool
- Wobbly gait
- Poor appetite
- Limping or trouble walking
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Bloody nose
- Protrusion of the third eyelid (inside the eye)
It's essential to note that not every feline infected with the anaplasma bacteria will manifest these signs. Exceptionally, cats with robust immune defenses might experience brief illness and then rebound swiftly.
Causes of Anaplasmosis in Cats
Ticks carrying the disease are responsible for transmitting the bacteria to cats. Peak infection rates are observed during late spring and fall when nymph and mature ticks are particularly active. For a cat to contract anaplasmosis, a tick must remain attached to them for a period ranging from 24 to 48 hours.
While anaplasmosis doesn't spread directly between cats, it's not uncommon for multiple cats in a single household to contract the illness simultaneously, likely due to exposure to the same ticks.
Diagnose Of Anaplasmosis in Cats
Your vet will gather a comprehensive medical history, noting potential tick bite incidents, and undertake a thorough physical check-up. Blood and urine tests will be prescribed for a deeper examination if anaplasmosis is suspected.
Identifying anaplasmosis can sometimes be achieved by examining a blood smear under a microscope, hoping to spot the bacteria. This method can be challenging, often necessitating expertise from a clinical pathologist. In many cases, vets will review blood tests for signs of thrombocytopenia (a decrease in platelets) or anemia (a reduction in blood cells) as these conditions hint at an Anaplasma infection due to the bacteria's impact on various blood cells.
The symptoms of anaplasmosis can overlap with other diseases, leading to fever, tiredness, anemia, thrombocytopenia, joint rigidity, or tarry stools. To pinpoint the diagnosis, one or more of the following lab tests can be conducted:
- Wright's Stain: Applied to a feline's blood sample, this stain assists in differentiating blood cells. A clearer view of a potential blood infection can be achieved as the bacteria become more discernible on the blood smear. This method was historically a primary diagnostic tool for anaplasmosis.
- Immunofluorescent Antibody (IFA): This test identifies antibodies in the blood's serum that interact with the Anaplasma bacteria. The serum is the residue left after blood cells are separated through centrifugation. A microscope is also used for this evaluation.
- Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA): Another blood examination, ELISA typically yields positive results only about eight days after infection. It's a prevalent test for cats suspected of experiencing prolonged anaplasmosis.
- Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): This test detects Anaplasma DNA in biological samples, often a cat's whole blood. Unlike the other methods, it doesn't involve microscopic examination. PCR's heightened sensitivity is advantageous for rapidly pinpointing the bacteria and ascertaining reinfection or carrier conditions. Today, this test is the predominant method vets use to diagnose anaplasmosis, forwarding the cat's blood sample to an external lab for assessment.
Treatment of Anaplasmosis in Cats
A blood transfusion may be necessary if your cat displays severe signs of anemia or thrombocytopenia. Generally, anaplasmosis is addressed with an oral antibiotic, typically doxycycline. While effective, this medication has occasionally been linked to esophageal narrowing. As such, after each dose, offering your cat a minimum of 5 milliliters of water or food is advisable.
After initiating the antibiotic treatment, most cats improve within 24-28 hours. However, it's crucial to continue the medication appropriately. Adhere strictly to your vet's guidance and ensure your cat receives the prescribed dosage. The usual antibiotic treatment duration ranges from 2 to 4 weeks.
Recovery of Anaplasmosis in Cats
When appropriately treated, cats diagnosed with anaplasmosis generally have a favorable outlook. Suppose your cat has no noticeable improvement within a few days of starting the antibiotic treatment. Testing them for other vector-related illnesses, such as Lyme disease, is recommended in that case.
The majority of cats recover completely from anaplasmosis. Nonetheless, to confirm the elimination of the infection, your vet will likely monitor your cat post-treatment. Usually, a follow-up visit is scheduled about two months post-treatment, with success marked by two or three consecutive negative test results.
To prevent future occurrences of anaplasmosis, consider limiting your cat's outdoor activities, applying preventive treatments, and performing daily inspections for ticks. Continuous tick prevention is vital, especially in tick-endemic regions.
While monthly preventive measures can significantly help, they don't guarantee complete protection against ticks. Hence, it's wise to inspect your cat if residing in tick-prone regions or after any outdoor activity. Ticks often attach near the cat's neck, head, ears or within the folds beneath their legs.