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Cat Scratch Fever: The Truth About Bartonellosis in Cats

cat-scratch-feverThanks to the song by a certain NRA-supporting rock star, most people have heard of cat scratch fever, even if they don’t know what it actually is. Cat scratch fever, which is more accurately known as catch scratch disease (CSD) or, in medical circles, as bartonellosis. A zoonotic disease, bartonellosis is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae and can be transmitted between animals and humans.

How Does CSD Start?
Cats usually get this disease through contact with flea droppings or feces. When a cat has fleas, the flea transmits the bacteria through its feces, which are deposited on the cat’s skin. When grooming, the cat ingests the bacteria and becomes infected as well by the Bartonella. Humans, on the other hand, do not get Bartonella directly from the flea droppings. In most cases, humans contract the infection by ticks or from bites, licking of open wounds and scratches by cats, hence the popular name of catch scratch fever.

CSD can be identified at your Dartmouth vet hospital through regular feline veterinary care check ups. If you suspect that you or your cat have become infected for any reason, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian in South Coast or stop by the emergency care center at Anchor Animal Hospital to get checked. While most cats do not suffer beyond a fever, muscle aches and swollen glands when they are infected with Bartonella, it is important that they get treated as soon as possible to stop the spread of the disease.

Who is At-Risk for Cat Scratch Fever?
Most healthy adults who come in contact with a cat that has CSD will only suffer a mild infection of Bartonella bacteria. However, in the United States there are approximately 25,000 cases of cat scratch fever that require hospitalization each year. Children are the biggest group of at-risk humans because of their age and the higher risk of being scratched or bitten while playing with infected kittens or cats. While not a fatal disease to humans or cats, CSD can be a great risk to people who have compromised immune systems.

Those who have the AIDS virus or are undergoing treatment for cancer or other diseases that leave the immune system compromised in any way are at a greater risk from cat scratch fever than any other demographic. While most cats do not carry this bacteria and pose absolutely no risk of transmitting CSD to their humans, those who are undergoing treatment or have immune health issues are advised to get feline veterinary care to have their pets tested and treated. Extreme vigilance against fleas and ticks is also highly recommended in these types of situations.

What Are the Symptoms?
In most cases, the symptoms associated with cat scratch fever will appear in 7-14 days. However, it can take up to eight weeks to become obvious. Most of the symptoms are similar to other infections, diseases and health issues, making them easy to miss in many situations. Swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, muscle pain, nausea, headache and weakness are common symptoms. Also, look for a small solid round bump at the site of the bite, scratch or lick. In most cases, the symptoms will clear up with brief bed rest, but some patients will require more serious care and antibiotic treatment.

In cats, your Dartmouth vet hospital can help to identify an infection of the Bartonella bacteria, but it also pays to watch out for a lack of appetite or tiredness in cats that have a history of flea or tick infestation. In most cases, there will be no obvious clinical symptoms outside of a low grade fever and some swollen glands. Your veterinarian in South Coast will take blood samples for testing if CSD is suspected, however many times nothing will show up in blood profiles, urinalysis and other common types of testing. Immune response testing and other types of advanced testing procedures may be required to make a confirmed diagnosis.

The Importance of Feline Veterinary Care
Pet owners need to understand the importance of visiting their local Dartmouth vet hospital for regular feline veterinary care check-ups and exams. While cats won’t make it easy to get them in a carrier and off to the vet for a check-up, it is key to their health and longevity to do so. There are many different types of bacteria, infections, diseases and other health issues that can affect cats in the New England area, so it is important to see your veterinarian in South Coast at least once a year for preventative measures.

Call Anchor Animal Hospital in Dartmouth, Massachusetts today to schedule an appointment or to ask about our veterinary services. Reach us at 508-996-3731 or use our online form. You can even stop by our full service emergency vet hospital, pet care clinic, surgical and treatment center to see our facilities! Our team has been providing professional vet services to pet owners throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island since 1975.