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The Hidden Danger of Flea and Tick Infestations in Cats

The vast majority of pet owners know that repeated bites from fleas and ticks can cause itchiness and skin irritation for cats, but that's not all. Fleas and ticks can carry a harmful organism that causes severe anemia that could put your cat's life at risk if left untreated.
This disorder is called haemobartonellosis, and here’s what you need to know to protect your cat from it.

The Danger Carried By Fleas and Ticks

Haemobartonellosis is usually only transferred to cats by infected fleas and ticks, although in some rare instances cats can transfer it to each other via a bite. The disease is caused by a bacterial organism that is injected into a cat's body when an infected flea or tick bites a cat. Once these bacteria make it to the cat's bloodstream, the real trouble begins.
Fleas and ticks induce anemia simply by draining too much blood from your cat's body, but haemobartonellosis breaks down red blood cells already in existence. The bacterial organism targets and attacks red blood cells, destroying them in the process. Once enough red blood cells are destroyed, your cat will become anemic.

The Harm of Haemobartonellosis

A cat's body has to go through a series of steps to produce new red blood cells, starting with the kidneys generating a chemical called erythropoietin that encourages the bone marrow to create new red blood cells. Even if your cat is otherwise completely healthy, this process takes time.
Unfortunately, most cat's bodies can't keep up with the rapid destruction of red blood cells caused by haemobartonellosis. Without treatment, a cat's anemia can worsen to the point where breathing is impaired, and exhaustion comes easily. Catching this infection early on is critical to keeping a cat from becoming extremely ill.

How It's Detected

A veterinarian can easily detect haemobartonellosis with a test called a blood smear. A vet or veterinary assistant will use a syringe to take a small blood sample from the ill cat. Then, at an in-house diagnostic laboratory, the veterinarian will examine the blood under a microscope for evidence of haemobartonellosis. If they find the bacteria, they will begin treatment immediately.
Also, veterinarians typically use the blood sample to determine if a cat is severely anemic. If the cat has lost a large amount of blood, the cat may need a blood transfusion or the vet will prescribe a steroid to slow the progression of the damage to the red blood cells.

How It's Treated

Despite how frightening this disorder can be, it's fairly easy to treat if caught early on. When a cat tests positive for haemobartonellosis, veterinarians typically prescribe a broad range of antibiotics to kill the bacteria and prevent it from reproducing in the cat's body. After the treatment is complete, another blood smear may be performed to ensure that the bacteria is gone for good.
Haemobartonellosis is a very dangerous condition, especially if pet owners don't notice it until it's too late. Thankfully, regular veterinary check-ups and blood tests can help to catch and defeat this illness before it causes serious damage to a cat's health.
If you aren't already regularly treating your cat with flea and tick control products, you should strongly consider doing so. Just one infected flea or tick bite could potentially infect your cat with this illness. Ask a veterinarian at West Riverside Veterinary Hospital for advice on what the most effective flea and tick control products are for your cat.
And if you notice your cat is extremely lethargic and having difficulty breathing, don’t hesitate to bring them in for an emergency checkup.

Dr. Michael Butchko, DVM
5488 Mission Blvd.
Riverside, CA 92509

Phone: 951-686-2242

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