Chattanooga area cat owners warned about fatal disease

Chattanooga area cat owners warned about fatal disease

July 1st, 2013 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News


This story is featured in today's TimesFreePress newscast.


• What: Protozoan disease, Cyteaxzoonosis (SY-toe-ZOH-oh-NO-sis)

• Infection path: American dog tick

• Symptoms: Anorexia, high fever, severe hemorrhaging

• Treatment: None. Disease nearly 100 percent fatal

• Prevention: Keep cats indoors or groom indoor-outdoor cats daily. Inspect base of ears, inside ears and anal area for ticks, remove before they can attach and feed.

Darlene White

Darlene White

Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson /Times Free Press.

A local veterinarian is warning cat owners about a tick-borne disease that can't be treated, is almost 100 percent fatal and might be becoming more common in the area.

Dr. Darlene White, of the Wolftever Pet Hospital on Highway 58 in Harrison, said she just treated her third case of Cytauxzoonosis in about two years.

"It's a horrible death," White said. The pets develop fevers of 105 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit and then hemorrhage, she said. Normal temperature for a cat is about 101-102 degrees.

The protozoa that causes it is carried by bobcats, who are unharmed by it. But when an American dog tick that has fed on a bobcat then fastens on a domestic cat, it's a death sentence for the pet.

Dr. Michael Lane, of the Regional Institute for Veterinary Emergencies and Referrals on Amnicola Highway, said the disease isn't new.

"In the past it has been considered pretty rare. I'd usually see a handful of cases," Lane said. "Over the past two to three years, I feel like we were seeing more. ... I don't know if we're looking for it more or it's becoming more prevalent in our area."

White and Lane said that because the disease is carried by bobcats, most of the cases they've seen come from rural areas.

They said the only way to protect pets is by prevention. Keep cats indoors, or thoroughly groom indoor-outdoor cats when they come inside.

"Once the tick gets on the pet and feeds, it's too late," White said.

Lane said one product, the Seresto collar by Bayer that repels ticks, offers some protection and lasts for about eight months. The product is available online and costs about $50.

Lane provided veterinary research showing that the disease won't spread from one infected cat to another and noting research outside the United States using anti-malarial agents shows some promise.

"We don't know if we've truly found a treatment that's effective," he said. "In any given population there are a few whose immune systems are strong enough to power through ... [but] I can't say I've ever successfully treated one."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at 423-757-6416 or