Bartonella Infection in Dogs

Bartonella Infection in Dogs

What is Bartonella Infection?

Cat scratch fever, also known as Bartonellosis, is a bacterial ailment that can affect cats and dogs when it enters their bloodstream. This infection is transmitted by various insects such as fleastickslice, and sand flies. The condition may result in a fever and can inflame multiple organs, notably the heart. The contagion is spread through these insects and pests.

In the United States, the southern regions witness a higher incidence of this infection compared to other parts. Globally, cats are more frequently diagnosed with this bacterial infection than dogs. Nonetheless, outdoor dogs, especially those involved in hunting and herding activities in the countryside, have a higher risk of encountering the parasites responsible for the Bartonella bacteria compared to their indoor counterparts.

Symptoms of Bartonella Infection in Dogs

Many dogs with a Bartonella infection might not show signs of the illness. However, if manifestations arise, their nature and intensity can vary based on the particular Bartonella strain and the dog's vulnerability. Dogs infected with this bacteria could exhibit some or all of the following indications:

  • Collapse
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea 
  • Enlarged spleen, lymph nodes, or liver
  • Fever
  • Heart murmurs or arrhythmias
  • Inflammation of the membranes around the heart, brain and spinal cord
  • Lack of appetite or weight loss 
  • Lameness
  • Lethargy
  • Nasal discharge and bleeding
  • Seizures 
  • Sudden death
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Causes of Bartonella Infection in Dogs

Bartonella infection is transmitted to hosts through pests like fleas, ticks, sand flies, and lice bites. Once an animal is infected, they can pass the bacteria onto humans, primarily through scratches or bites, categorizing it as a zoonotic ailment. In people, it's often referred to as cat scratch fever, though a cat's scratch isn't the sole method of transmission. While humans can contract Bartonella from a dog, such incidents, especially from dog bites, are rarer.

Six Bartonella species are identified to affect dogs (B. henselae, B. vinsonii, B. clarridgeiae, B. elizabethae, B. washoensis, and B. quintana). Out of these, B. henselae stands out as the most prevalent, being the culprit behind the well-known cat scratch fever.

Diagnosis of Bartonella Infection in Dogs

After conducting a comprehensive physical assessment, a veterinarian might suggest various tests, including a complete blood count (CBC), a chemistry profile, and a urinalysis. These tests aim to detect indicators of inflammation and infection and their potential impact on the body's organs.

Blood analysis is the most effective method to identify bartonellosis in dogs. Typically, these samples are dispatched to specialized veterinary diagnostic centers for evaluation.

Testing with IFA (immunofluorescence antibodies) is valuable in identifying any exposure to the Bartonella bacteria. Furthermore, cultures might be derived from blood samples and impacted tissues, such as lymph nodes or, in instances of endocarditis, heart valves, to check for the bacteria. Endocarditis is an inflammation of the heart's inner lining.

An echocardiogram, a heart ultrasound, is employed to diagnose endocarditis best. Initial screenings might include standard blood tests to identify infections, an EKG, and thoracic X-rays. If necessary, your primary veterinarian might provide a referral for a more detailed examination, like an echocardiogram.

Treatment of Bartonella Infection in Dogs

Fortunately, bartonellosis is treatable using antibiotics. A course lasting 4 to 6 weeks with medications like doxycycline, amoxicillin, or enrofloxacin has demonstrated efficacy against the infection. Given the extended duration of antibiotic therapy and the aim to avoid antibiotic resistance, treatment is predominantly advised for animals displaying symptoms.

Recovery of Bartonella Infection in Dogs

Signs of bartonellosis in dogs typically subside within 2-4 weeks of therapy. However, occasional instances might witness prolonged glandular swelling and overall tiredness that can last for several months, though such cases are rare.

Prevention of Bartonella Infection in Dogs

Currently, there aren't any vaccines that can ward off bartonellosis. Effective flea and tick control, which your veterinarian can guide you on, is crucial in safeguarding against this ailment. When your dog is in zones where these pests are widespread or indigenous, keeping a watchful eye is vital. Actively spotting and removing fleas or ticks serves as a beneficial preventive strategy.

People with weakened immune systems should be cautious and steer clear of aggressive interactions or bites from dogs that might be carrying bartonella. Puppies, known for their sharp teeth and playful nibbles, could transmit the infection, especially to those with compromised immunity. However, no evidence suggests humans can contract the infection directly from a tick or flea.


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