Cryptosporidiosis in Cats

Cats

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Cryptosporidiosis is an important cause of gastroenteritis and diarrhea in a variety of animal species, including humans. It is caused by a ubiquitous protozoan of the genus Cryptosporidium. The most common species of Cryptosporidium affecting domestic mammals is Cryptosporidium parvum.

Cryptosporidiosis may be a primary disease, although it is often seen as a secondary disorder in cats and people with compromised immune systems. Crowding and unsanitary conditions increase the risk of exposure. Young cats may be more susceptible to infection.

The impact of the disease tends to be minimal in cats that have a competent immune system. Immunocompromised cats, however, may develop clinical signs after infection.

What to Watch For

  • Diarrhea
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss

    Diagnosis

  • Fecal examination
  • Serology
  • Animal inoculation
  • Intestinal biopsy

    Treatment

    In some cases, no treatment is necessary. For others, treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • High fiber diet
  • Supportive therapy

    Home Care and Prevention

    Administer all medications as prescribed. Try to disinfect any contaminated area but this may be difficult to do. Boil any water collected in the field for drinking and clean the litter box frequently to reduce exposure to infected feces.

  • Cryptosporidiosis is a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Cryptosporidium. The species of the organism that affects mammals most commonly is Cryptosporidium parvum. A number of mammalian species including rodents, calves, dogs, cats and people can develop gastrointestinal tract disease due to infection with the organism. A high prevalence of serum antibodies to the organism in many cats, suggests that exposure to the parasite is common.

    The infective form of the organism is the oocyst, which is spread via fecal contamination of food or drinking water. The organism is very infective. It only takes a few oocysts to cause disease in people.

    Cryptosporidiosis may be a primary disease, or it may be a secondary disease in cats with weakened immune systems. The risk of exposure increases in crowded or unsanitary conditions. In cats, it is more commonly seen in young animals less than six months old.

    Typically, cryptosporidiosis is a self-limiting disease in cats with competent immune systems; many cats can be infected without showing clinical signs at all. Others will have mild diarrhea, but recover uneventfully. Even though young cats are more susceptible to becoming infected, they too may never develop clinical signs. The signs of cryptosporidiosis include acute onset of lethargy, abdominal cramps and profuse watery diarrhea. The illness generally subsides without treatment, although persistent diarrhea and dehydration occasionally develops. The severity of the disease depends on the immune competence of the cat. Immunocompromised people, such as those with HIV/AIDS, may suffer severe diarrhea that never resolves and may even prove fatal.

    Diagnosis In-depth

  • Fecal examination. Cats suspected of having cryptosporidiosis should have a fecal sample carefully sent to a laboratory for special staining and examination techniques.

  • Serology. Detection of antibodies against the organism identifies cats that have been exposed to the organism, but it does not necessarily diagnose active infection.

  • Animal inoculation. Oocysts may be harvested from an infected stool sample and inoculated orally into neonatal mice, followed by examination of the intestinal tissue of the mice one week later. This test is rarely done.        

  • Intestinal biopsy. Intestinal biopsy often reveals the organism as well as the damage that the organism may have caused to the intestinal tract.

    Therapy In-depth

    Although more than 100 drugs have been screened, there are very few drugs available to treat cryptosporidiosis successfully.

  • No treatment. Infections in immunocompetent cats are usually self-limiting, and full recovery often occurs.

  • Antibiotics. Many antibiotics have been used in an attempt to treat cryptosporidiosis. Paromomycin, tylosin and azithromycin have all been shown to have reasonable efficacy when treating the disorder.

  • High fiber diet. Feeding a high fiber diet in conjunction with antibiotic therapy and supportive care may be beneficial in helping resolve the diarrhea more quickly.

  • Supportive therapy. Severe dehydration may require hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy for several days.

    Follow-up

    Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your cat does not improve rapidly. Administer all prescribed medications as directed. Alert your veterinarian if you experience problems treating your cat.

    Infected cats should be isolated from people who are immunocompromised due to the potential spread of the disease from the cat to people.

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