What is Ehrlichiosis in Cats?
Ehrlichiosis, resulting from the bacteria Ehrlichia, is a tick-transmitted disease mainly impacting the blood cells in felines. This bacteria belongs to the Rickettsial category, which characteristically thrives inside other cells. Such bacteria can cause ailments in various species, including cats, dogs, and humans. When it affects our feline friends, it's termed feline mononuclear ehrlichiosis.
While it's still uncertain which specific ticks are responsible for transferring Ehrlichia to cats, they may be akin to the brown dog tick, known to spread a comparable disease in dogs. These ticks become carriers after feeding on an infected host. Throughout their lifespan, ticks feed on various hosts, including rodents, white-tailed deer, and domestic pets like dogs and cats.
When a tick attaches to a cat, it can transmit the Ehrlichia bacteria in as little as three hours. The bacteria then enter the feline's system via the bite and the tick's saliva. Once in the bloodstream, these bacteria target the cat's white blood cells and multiply, compromising various blood cells and adversely affecting multiple organs.
In contrast to dogs, who go through three stages of ehrlichiosis, cats do not seem to exhibit this pattern. Additionally, cats might have concurrent infections from other viruses or tick-related diseases, intensifying their symptoms.
Recognizing the Signs of Ehrlichiosis In Cats
Feline mononuclear ehrlichiosis displays a wide range of symptoms. Here are some of the most frequently observed signs:
- Elevated body temperature
- Reduced hunger
- Pale-colored gums
- Tendency to bruise or bleed
- Loose stools
- Discomfort in joints
- Eye inflammation (uveitis)
- Swollen lymphatic nodes
- Shedding weight
- Respiratory challenges
- A noticeable bulge in the abdomen due to an enlarged spleen
- Neurological complications (like meningitis or cerebral hemorrhages)
Understanding the Origins of Ehrlichiosis in Felines
Ticks become carriers of ehrlichiosis once they feed on a contaminated host. To reproduce and fulfill their life cycle, most ticks linked to such diseases necessitate three different hosts. This host list can encompass rodents, rabbits, deer, foxes, dogs, and cats. When an infected tick latches onto a cat and feeds, it passes on the disease. A few weeks after the tick's feeding, the bacteria manifest in the cat's bloodstream and white blood cells.
The Process of Identifying Ehrlichiosis in Felines by Veterinarians
Based on the clinical history and observable symptoms, veterinarians might consider the possibility of tick-related diseases like ehrlichiosis. Yet, given the rarity of ehrlichiosis, assessing other potential reasons behind the observed symptoms is essential. Blood tests are pivotal in confirming a diagnosis of ehrlichiosis and determining its consequences and complications. Diagnostic procedures involve:
- Analyzing blood chemistry
- Conducting a complete blood count: Ehrlichiosis in cats frequently manifests as low platelet counts, anemia, and elevated monocyte levels (a specific type of white blood cell).
- Examining a blood smear: While spotting Ehrlichia organisms within white blood cells is possible, they seldom appear in the peripheral blood.
- Utilizing serology and PCR assays: These are definitive diagnostic tools for Ehrlichia, though they might produce ambiguous results due to interactions with other rickettsial species, leading to potential false outcomes.
- Taking X-rays: Useful in eliminating other causes of joint discomfort, such as fractures.
Treatment For Ehrlichiosis in Felines: Therapeutic Approaches
For cats diagnosed with or suspected to have feline mononuclear ehrlichiosis, Doxycycline emerges as the preferred therapeutic option. A notable improvement is usually observed in a matter of days. Typically, a treatment span of at least 28 days is recommended for cats showing signs of ehrlichiosis.
Cat owners need to exercise caution while administering doxycycline. When given in tablet form, there's a risk of esophageal strictures— a scarring or narrowing of the esophagus—if the tablet becomes lodged. To avoid this, many veterinarians opt for a liquid form of doxycycline or ensure a substantial quantity of water follows the tablet.
If there's no marked improvement in your cat's condition, exploring alternative diagnoses or considering other antibiotics like tetracycline or imidocarb might be essential.
For those cats experiencing severe symptoms during the acute phase of the illness, they might benefit from additional supportive measures such as:
- Administering intravenous fluids
- Offering nutritional assistance
- Managing pain
- Conducting blood transfusions if needed.
Navigating Ehrlichiosis in Cats: Healing and Ongoing Care
For cats diagnosed with feline mononuclear ehrlichiosis, the outlook is generally positive. Most cats begin to exhibit signs of recovery within the initial three days, although the duration for total recuperation might vary based on the disease's intensity.
It's standard practice to continue antibiotic treatment for at least a month, occasionally even longer. While the majority of cats exhibit a positive response, a few might not recuperate, resulting in either natural death or the need for euthanasia due to disease complications. Potential lingering issues comprise chronic joint problems, eye complications, anemia, and repercussions from blood transfusion procedures.
To ascertain the comprehensive elimination of the infectious agent, veterinarians suggest a follow-up blood test 1-2 months post-treatment. If test results remain positive and the feline continues to exhibit symptoms, an additional antibiotic regimen might be deemed necessary.
Protecting Cats from Ehrlichiosis: Steps to Consider
Currently, no vaccines are available to shield dogs or cats from ehrlichiosis. Thus, the primary defense lies in diligent tick prevention and mitigation. An array of tick deterrent products is accessible, and a consultation with your veterinarian can guide you toward an optimal selection for your feline companion.
Regularly inspecting your cat for ticks and promptly removing any detected is crucial. It's worth highlighting that Ehrlichia is zoonotic, implying its potential to affect humans. Although cats cannot directly pass on Ehrlichia to their caregivers, they might introduce unattached ticks from outdoor environments. It's pivotal to keep your cat's tick prevention measures current and scrutinize them for ticks following outdoor excursions.