What is Hepatozoonosis?
Hepatozoonosis differs from many tick-related illnesses because a tick's bite doesn't spread it. Instead, a predator consumes a tick that's already infected. This parasite then targets and establishes itself within the host animal's organs and muscles. It multiplies, breaking down cells and eventually finding its way into the bloodstream. A tick that bites this host can then become infected, perpetuating the cycle. Cats affected by hepatozoonosis might display tissue damage symptoms and can experience a weakened immune system.
The disease results from a protozoan entity, Hepatozoon, transported by ticks. While wild and domestic meat-eaters are susceptible to it, cats seem less frequently affected. It's either rarer in felines compared to other carnivores or perhaps not identified as often since many cats show no signs when carrying the Hepatozoon parasite.
Symptoms of Hepatozoonosis in Cats
Many cats carrying the hepatozoonosis parasite don't show symptoms. However, when signs do manifest, it's often coupled with another existing condition, complicating the diagnosis. As a result, it becomes challenging to determine if the symptoms stem from the tissue damage caused by this tick-borne parasite or from other illnesses resulting from a weakened immune system. Some potential symptoms of hepatozoonosis are:
- Lack of strength
- Elevated body temperature
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Low red blood cell count
- Blood clotting issues
- Evidence of a viral or immune-related disease.
Causes of Hepatozoonosis in Cats
The Hepatozoon parasite is responsible for hepatozoonosis, commonly infecting blood-feeding arthropods, especially ticks. In a unique twist, hepatozoonosis isn't spread when a tick bites an animal. Instead, transmission occurs when a meat-eating host, domestic or wild, consumes an infected tick. Additionally, transmission can occur when the parasite travels across the placenta in a pregnant carnivore carrying the infection.
Two types of parasites can infect cats. While H. canis is more commonly detected in dogs, it can affect cats too. H. felis, on the other hand, is the prevalent species infecting cats. This ailment is more typical in tropical regions, with reported cases from India, South Africa, Nigeria, the USA, Brazil, Israel, Spain, France, and Portugal.
Cats that spend more time outdoors, facing a higher exposure to potentially infected ticks, are at a greater risk than their indoor counterparts. When an animal becomes infected, the parasite infiltrates tissues, divides, and breaks down cells. This process might lead to the onset of hepatozoonosis symptoms and related immune complications.
Diagnosis of Hepatozoonosis in Cats
Often, hepatozoonosis doesn't show symptoms in cats, leading many infections to remain unnoticed. When identified, it's typically during the diagnosis or treatment of a different ailment.
Pinpointing hepatozoonosis can be challenging due to its ties with immunosuppression and other health issues. A veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical assessment and order blood and urine analyses to check for other potential conditions that might explain the symptoms or coexist with hepatozoonosis. They'll also inquire about any recent visits your pet may have made to areas known for ticks carrying the disease.
To confirm a hepatozoonosis diagnosis in cats, the following can be investigated:
- Detection of parasite gametes in blood slides
- Identification of parasite meronts in muscle tissues
- Finding the parasite's DNA in blood and tissue samples.
However, it's worth noting that these techniques are only sometimes foolproof. The presence of the hepatozoonosis parasite's gametes, meronts, and DNA in feline samples is rare, making them tricky to spot.
Treatment of Hepatozoonosis in Cats
Therapy often involves drugs aimed at combating the parasite. Still, their effectiveness can be limited, and the infection might reappear. Antiparasitic various medicines have been tried to tackle hepatozoonosis, with differing results. Continuous care and oversight from your vet might be necessary.
Furthermore, any manifested symptoms and related conditions must be addressed. As needed, supportive care will be administered.
If there are additional diseases or viral infections due to the immunosuppressive effects linked with hepatozoonosis, your veterinarian will also address those.
Preventive measures against blood-feeding pests are highly recommended to safeguard your pet from hepatozoonosis.
Recovery of Hepatozoonosis in Cats
Continuous monitoring of your cat might be necessary due to the potential reappearance of hepatozoonosis. Achieving a full recovery isn't always guaranteed, and enduring treatment using anti-parasitic drugs might be essential. It's worth noting that this infection isn't considered a threat to humans. The best prevention against hepatozoonosis is keeping pets inside and limiting their contact with ticks and other blood-feeding pests.