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Feline Infectious Anemia (Hemobartonellosis)

By: Dr. Arnold Plotnick

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Feline infectious anemia, also known as hemobartonellosis or feline hemotropic mycoplasmosis, is a parasitic disease of worldwide significance. Affected cats experience some degree of anemia, although it also causes a wide range of other clinical signs that can vary from simple depression and lethargy to fever and shock.

The causative organisms for this disease are Mycoplasma haemofilis previously called Hemobartonella felis large form and Mycoplasma haemominutum previously called Haemobartonella felis small form. They are parasites that affects the outer surface of feline red blood cells. The name of the parasite was changed after extensive study when it was determined that the parasite was genetically similar to other mycoplasma organisms.

Cats of all ages and breeds can be affected. There are several predisposing risk factors for feline hemotropic mycoplasmosis, including the presence of another disease that causes immunosuppression such as cancer or feline leukemia virus (FeLV), deficient vaccination status, history of cat bite abscesses within prior few weeks and cats that have exposure to fleas and ticks. Young intact male cats are at increased risk due to fighting and roaming behaviors.

The primary mode of transmission is by blood sucking arthropods such as fleas, ticks and possibly mosquitoes.

The impact of the disease varies widely. Some cases are mild, while other cases can be associated with severe weakness, depression anorexia, fever, weight loss, anemia, and sometimes death.

What to Watch For

  • Weakness (sudden or gradual)
  • Pale or yellow-tinged mucous membranes in the gums, nose
  • Fever
  • Diffuse whole-body tenderness
  • Rapid breathing rate (tachypnea)
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

    Diagnosis

  • Complete blood count including reticulocytes
  • Coombs test
  • Chemistry panel
  • Urinalysis
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) testing
  • Direct blood smear and microscopic analysis
  • PCR analysis. This is the best test to confirm the presence of Mycoplasma haemofelis infection.

    Treatment

  • Antibiotics. Mycoplasma haemofelis is typically susceptible to tetracycline and doxycycline.

  • Corticosteroids, although controversial are used in selected cases

  • Blood transfusion in cases of severe anemia

    Home Care and Prevention

    Carefully monitor your cat during treatment. Administer medications as prescribed and notify your veterinarian if you are having trouble giving the medication. Recheck appointments are very important to make sure your cat continues to improve.

    Keeping your cat indoors can help prevent exposure to possible vectors of infection, reduced fighting between cats and reduced exposure to various diseases and viruses. Neuter outside cats to reduce the risk of cat fights. Use medications to prevent fleas and ticks.

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