Cat Scratch Fever
More Than an Old Song
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.
For the past 40+ years, when somebody heard the term cat scratch fever, they immediately thought of an old famous song. But actually there is a medical condition of the same name. In this blog, we will take a look at cat scratch fever, what causes it and how to treat it in both cats and people.
What is Cat Scratch Fever
The disease known as cat scratch fever is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella henselae. This bacteria is carried by fleas and transmitted via exposure to blood. While in contact with a cat, the feces of fleas can get caught under the cat’s nails or on the teeth during grooming.
Cat Scratch Fever Diagnosis & Treatment for Cats
This particular illness does not produce any significant symptoms in cats. In order to test a cat for cat scratch fever, a vet can take blood samples from the animal. Unfortunately, complete blood profiles, biochemistry panels and even a urinalysis can often be inconclusive, showing no abnormal readings. There is another test called an EIA (enzyme immunoassay) that can be used to test for an immune system response to the Bartonella henselae bacterium. However, the down side to this test is that even though there are antibodies present, the test cannot prove that a cat presently has the disease or whether it had been infected sometime in the past. Antibiotics can be used to treat cats with clinical symptoms, but do not eliminate all of the infection.
Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment of Cat Scratch Fever in Humans
People normally get infected by being scratched or bitten by infected cats. This disease usually presents itself in people as a tender, swollen lump on the skin and will appear 1-3 weeks after the bite has taken place. Diagnosing the illness by physical examination alone is difficult to confirm. The doctor can go one step further and do a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) blood test to see if the Bartonella henselae bacteria is in the patient’s body. People who have been infected by this bacterium can suffer from headaches, chills, muscular and joint pain.
Luckily, cat scratch fever disease is rarely serious and will usually clear up on its own in about 8-12 weeks. Over the counter pain relief can be given for tenderness around the swollen areas. A doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if the lesions are particularly bad.
Help Your Cat Avoid Cat Scratch Fever
The trick to avoiding this often painful and unpleasant illness is to make sure your cat is kept on flea protection all year round. Many people believe that flea and tick medicine is really only needed for the summer months, but this is certainly not the case. There is an active chemical in flea prevention medication called imidacloprid which has been successfully shown to block the dreaded B. henselae bacteria.
Cat scratch fever is not widely known by most people, but it’s certainly something in which we all should be concerned. Since the illness is spread onto cats from the feces of fleas, it is very important to keep your animal on flea and tick protection all year round. If you happen to see any of the symptoms on your skin that could be cat scratch fever, see your doctor right away.
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