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Bartonellosis in Dogs

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Bartonellosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Bartonella. There are several subspecies of Bartonella and each are associated with causing different problems. The organism infects red blood cells and endothelial cells in some animals. Some dogs may be infected without any clinician signs of illness and other may show symptoms of infection.

In cats, the disease is commonly known as Cat-scratch Disease (CSD), which is an infection in cats and humans. In humans, it most often occurs after prolonged contact with a young cat.

All ages, breeds, and sexes of dog are susceptible, however dogs in rural areas, herding breeds are thought to be at increased risk. The risk of disease is increased with pets exposed to the disease vectors such as fleas, ticks, lice and sand flies. Therefore, feral dogs and strays are at increased risk.

What to Watch For

In Dogs

  • Some dogs may show no clinical signs of illness
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite (anorexia)
  • Weakness
  • Nasal Discharge
  • Bloody nose (Epistaxis)
  • Lameness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing
  • Lymphnode enlargement

    In Humans

    Signs of human disease include raised skin lesions that are red to purple in color. Anywhere from a few to over 100 may be found on the face, trunk, arms and legs. If cat scratch disease spreads internally, it can cause fever, weight loss and vomiting. Upon examination, the liver and spleen may be enlarged. Humans with immunodeficiency problems are at higher risk for disease.


    In people, definitive diagnosis generally requires a biopsy for microscopic examination and culture. Other tests to diagnose the organism in dogs might include:

  • Blood culture
  • Serology
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Serum biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis


    Dogs that show clinical signs of illness may be treated with antibiotics and supportive care.

    In people, Bartonella responds to several different oral antibiotics, such as erythromycin, clarithromycin, azithromycin and doxycycline. Antibiotics are usually given for 2 to 3 months unless there is bloodstream or internal organ involvement. In advanced HIV disease, long-term management with lower doses is usually necessary to prevent relapse.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is no home care for bartonellosis. Preventive care is based on maintaining good hygiene. Wash your hands after handling pets and wash scratches or bites thoroughly. Never let a dog lick an open wound, and maintain meticulous flea control. Preventative flea and tick control is recommended. For more information on flea and tick control programs, go to Flea Control and Prevention in Dogs or How to Remove and Prevent Ticks in Dogs.

    Blood cultures and serology should be performed on pets belonging to immunocompromised people.

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