MU researchers study tick-borne feline disease

MU researchers study tick-borne feline disease

Apr 20, 2009
By staff
Columbia, Mo. -- Researchers at the University of Missouri are studying a tick-borne disease that kills housecats within three to five days after the onset of illness.

The incidence of Cytauxzoonosis, caused by the protozoan parasite Cytauxzoan felis, in domestic cats is not known, but researchers are trying to determine those numbers and eventually find a preventive. Leah Cohn, a professor and associate department chair of veterinary medicine and surgery at the school, is the lead researcher.

During the 12-day incubation period a cat may exhibit no symptoms, but then show a pale to white gum line, lethargy, jaundice, fever and then die within three to five days.

The native bobcat is known to be the original host of the organism, which then is picked up by ticks and spread to domestic cats. The disease originally was believed to exist only in parts of Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, but recently has been reported throughout the Southeast and as far northeast as Pennsylvania, researchers say.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture supported early research into the disease several years ago when it was believed the disease threatened livestock, but dropped funding when it learned only cats were affected. Cohn resumed the research three years ago, and this year received study grants from the ALSAM Foundation and WINN Feline Foundation.

A definitive diagnosis of Cytauxzoonosis is difficult because of the quick death of cats and because many owners elect to euthanize cats with the life-threatening symptoms without paying for further investigation, veterinarians say.