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What are Aspergillosis?

Both nasal and disseminated aspergillosis require the immediate attention of a vet. If you notice signs such as nasal discharge, nosebleeds, sneezing, or general weakness, contact a veterinarian right away.

Aspergillosis is a fungal infection caused by the Aspergillus fungus that can either affect just the nasal cavity or the entire body. Cats likely come into contact with this fungus on a regular basis, however not every cat will suffer from an infection as a result. Aspergillus exposure typically only turns into an infection if the cat already has a weakened immune system. 

Symptoms of Aspergillosis in Cats

Symptoms will vary depending on the location and extent of infection. 

Nasal aspergillosis, which is limited to the nasal cavity, is characterized by:

  • Excessive nasal discharge, which may have an odor
  • Nosebleeds
  • Inflamed nostrils
  • Sneezing
  • Loud breathing

Disseminated aspergillosis, in which  infection has spread beyond the  nasal cavity, you may notice other symptoms, including:

  • Uncoordinated movements
  • General weakness
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Severe eye inflammation

Causes of Aspergillosis in Cats

Aspergillosis is caused by the Aspergillus fungus, which can be found throughout the environment on dead leaves, decaying plants, or compost piles. Cats commonly come into contact with this type of fungus, however exposure does not always lead to an infection. Aspergillosis is known as an opportunistic infection because exposure to the fungus does not cause any health issues unless the cat already has a weakened immune system or sinus infection. Cats that inhale the spores of this fungus may develop an infection, exhibit no symptoms at all, or have an allergic reaction.

Diagnosis of Aspergillosis in Cats

Bring your cat into a veterinarian as soon as you notice signs of aspergillosis. It’s important to discuss your cat’s prior health history with the vet because this illness only affects cats with weakened immune systems. 

Diagnosing nasal aspergillosis may involve a rhinoscopy, which involves inserting a thin tube with a camera into the nasal cavity. The camera will help the vet examine the nasal cavity to look for signs of a fungal infection. A small sample of tissue may also be taken during this procedure for testing to confirm the diagnosis. 

However, if your cat has disseminated aspergillosis, a nasal examination will not help the vet make a diagnosis. Instead, the vet may ask to perform blood tests and a urinalysis. The blood test will reveal whether there are any antibodies present in the body, which would signal an infection. If your cat does have disseminated aspergillosis, fungal organisms may be present in the urine sample, which would help the vet confirm this diagnosis. 

Regardless of which type your cat has, the vet may suggest a CT scan or X-ray to determine if the infection has caused any bone destruction. 

Treatment of Aspergillosis in Cats

Treatment will depend on the type of aspergillosis that has been diagnosed.  Disseminated aspergillosis is usually treated with oral antifungal medication, however, the treatment for nasal aspergillosis is a bit more intensive. 

To treat nasal aspergillosis, the vet may anesthetize the cat and pack the back of the throat with both gauze and a balloon catheter. An antifungal lotion will then be pumped into the cat’s nasal and sinus cavities and the nostrils will be completely sealed off. At this point, the cat will be given oxygen through a breathing tube. The antifungal lotion will remain inside the cat’s nasal and sinus cavities for around one hour. Throughout the hour, the vet will slightly turn the cat into different positions to ensure every inch of the cavities is cleansed by the lotion. The vet will drain the antifungal from the cat after the hour is up and the treatment has come to an end. 

In some cases, the vet may also require that you give your cat antifungal medication after the treatment. This is especially common if there are signs of bone destruction in the sinus cavity. 

Recovery of Aspergillosis in Cats

If your cat has nasal aspergillosis, the chances of recovery are fairly high, however, a full recovery is not as certain with disseminated aspergillosis. Be sure to give your cat the antifungal medication as instructed by the vet to increase his chances of recovering. 

Most cats with nasal aspergillosis will recover after one treatment, however, if your cat is still experiencing nasal discharge after the first procedure, further treatment may be needed. You will need to bring your cat in for a follow-up visit as advised by the vet so he can recheck the nasal cavity for fungal organisms.

After your cat has recovered, it’s important to do everything you can to prevent this fungal infection from coming back. Keep your cat indoors if he has a weakened immune system. The Aspergillus fungus is found outdoors, so if you limit your cat’s exposure to it, you will reduce the chance of another fungal infection.