By ROB W. ANDERSON
A University of Missouri veterinarian calls bobcat fever the Ebola virus for cats, as a swift and painful death follows within hours or days of infection.
Cytauxzoonosis, or bobcat fever, is tickborne disease that affects only cats, household or domesticated cats and those living in the wild like bobcats or mountain lions.
Online reports state the first case of bobcat fever was documented 37 years ago in Missouri, and the feline disease was believed to be limited to south central and southeastern portions of the United States.
Now it’s believed to have spread across the country, which may have weakened its fatal effects. Tahlequah Veterinarian Dr. Bill Elliott said he has had a few pets owners bring their cat to see him about symptoms later deemed the result of the tickborne disease.
“I’ve probably had about five cats live and probably five that didn’t live. The death rate should be about 85 percent. I feel like the organism has attenuated itself,” he said. “It’s not as lethal as it once was.”
Bobcat fever is said to affect all cats, and a cat’s health status can change over a 24-hour period. Pet owners are urged to keep domestic cats indoors away from all ticks as a form of prevention, and check their pet for ticks if the cat spends any time outside. Symptoms include signs of lethargy, loss of appetite, dehydration, jaundice and respiratory distress to name a few.
Timbers Veterinarian Dr. Steve Ullom said his office hasn’t received any cases of bobcat fever thus far, and noted the tickborne disease can cause high body temperatures in cats.
“They’ll be running a 105-106 degree fever a lot of times,” he said. “And they will get real jaundiced around the eyes, and the inside of their mouth will turn yellow. Their urine will be almost a dark orange color, and that’s from the blood cells that are breaking down so fast in the body.”
Lone star ticks are noted for carrying bobcat fever, but Elliott said pet owners need to protect their animal from all ticks.
“They’re saying lone star ticks, but I think other ticks can spread it,” he said. “There’s no vaccine. The only prevention is to keep ticks off of them. Early intervention is the most important thing.”
Elliott said the first case of bobcat fever in Oklahoma was diagnosed in Cherokee County in the 1980s.
“I couldn’t get OSU to believe me. They thought I was nuts for trying to get them to test for it,” he said.
Ullom agreed with Elliott that with the proper steps taken to keep the cat tick free, the chances of survival increase.
“Ten to 15 years ago, it was 100 percent fatal, but now we’re seeing some cats live,” he said. “It’s definitely worth treating.”
Cat owner Michelle Mulford lost her long-haired, fluffy cat “Turtle” to bobcat fever. She owned the cat for seven years, and said Turtle loved being outside and had been treated with everything you could use to provide protection. Pulling ticks off Turtle was a common practice, Mulford said.
“The first day, we just noticed that he was just sitting still. He began to not move at all. He just sat in one spot for a couple of hours at least,” she said.
“Then we noticed the next morning he wouldn’t eat or drink, and within two hours, you could tell he was sick. He was hot. His little nose was not OK. When we took him to the vet, he had a temperature of 104.”
Turtle began to have seizures, and the need to put cat down arrived after spending the night at the vet, Mulford noted.
“The actual symptoms was just his stillness,” she said. “And not eating. Not drinking. And he had started - on the Internet it says that they cry - and he hadn’t gotten there, yet. He talked to us on the way to the vet just like he did all the time, but he didn’t [cry]. So it’s very instant.”