Fleas are troublemakers! Most everyone knows they cause irritation to their pet’s skin. Fleas can also carry parasites that cause serious illnesses especially in cats. This article addresses the flea diseases in cats in the Northwestern United States.
Mrs. Brown brought her kitty “Daisy” in for an exam. Daisy had not been eating and was just laying around. Being strictly an indoor cat she was not as likely to have an infectious disease or was she? Upon completing the exam I found she had a fever of 104 (normal is 102), was breathing rapidly , appeared depressed and had lots of flea feces in her coat. The most outstanding finding was that her gums were very pale.
In cats the pale gums are very suggestive of a condition referred to as Feline Infectious Anemia. That terminology is soon becoming outdated because we know have more specific causes for the loss or decrease in red blood cells (anemia). Blood work was essential to diagnosing Daisy’s problem . There are many possible causes of her symptoms such as virus, blood loss, toxins and flea related diseases. The blood work confirmed extreme anemia requiring a transfusion . The immediate microscopic exam of the blood revealed small organisms attached to the red blood cells. This exam must be done on fresh blood. Blood overnight shipped to a lab would not have the organisms present. A diagnosis of Mycoplasma felis ( formerly Hemobartonella) was confirmed. Fortunately the treatment for the disease is quite effective but cats can remain as carriers. Fleas carry the organism. The key here is flea control.
Another organism could have just as easily been the cause of Daisy’s dilemma. An organism carried by fleas and ticks called Ehrlichia spp. can cause similar symptoms along with joint pain. Multiple symptoms can occur. Other diseases must be ruled out with blood work. This disease Feline Ehrlichiosis is much more difficult to diagnose and the blood sample must be specifically test for this organism. It can take days for results. It is treated with the same medication as Hemobart. So through process of elimination a feline may be started on the medications without test results in hand. The key here is flea control.
Mrs. Brown was overwhelmed with the severity of the disease and with the fact that her indoor cat could become infected. At the end of the hospitalization we noticed a small worm in the feces layed in the litter box. It was a tapeworm. Ah yes, also carried by our enemy the flea!
Mrs. Brown was instructed to treat her home for fleas and begin an effective flea control program. The best products for fleas control are available only at your veterinarians –don’t be mislead. She began Daisy a safe topical product called TopSpot (for fleas and ticks) for a rapid kill and then an injection of a non-insecticide product called Program for death of any eggs that may be layed in the environment. She won’t be caught off guard again. Will you?
Dr. Becky Marks
Timberland Animal Clinic