What are Babesiosis?
Parasites of all kinds attack your cat’s immune system and other bodily functions exponentially as they spread. It is therefore important that you seek early veterinary attention for your cat if you suspect they are suffering from babesiosis.
Babesiosis occurs when a type of single celled parasite, also known as a protozoa, of the genus Babesia infects your cat’s bloodstream. While your cat may not initially seem sick, symptoms will be quick to progress.
Symptoms of Babesiosis in Cats
Symptoms will often be mild in the beginning and increase in severity as the protozoa reproduce and grow in number in your cat’s symptoms. It also may take some time for symptoms to develop after initial infection. Signs to watch for include:
- Lack of appetite
- Rapid heart beat
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle tremors
- Unexplained weight loss
Causes of Babesiosis in Cats
Babesiosis in your cat occurs when they are infected with the Babesia parasite. Infection occurs most often through the spread of the protozoa via ticks. When a tick bites an infected host it carries the spores of the parasite in its saliva. When a tick moves onto another host, that animal will then be infected as the protozoa pass from the tick’s saliva to your cat.
While ticks are the primary method of infection, sexual activity, blood transfusions, and fights with infected animals that draw blood, can also cause transmission.
Diagnosis of Babesiosis in Cats
Your veterinarian will begin diagnosis of a parasitic infection in your cat with a thorough physical exam. Many of the symptoms of babesiosis are similar to those seen in other types of diseases. It will be important to provide your vet with a thorough medical and physical history of your cat to aid in this process. Of particular importance will be whether your cat has suffered any recent wounds or been in fights with other animals. You should also let your vet know whether your cat is current on their flea and tick control treatments. Cats with compromised or weakened immune systems may be more susceptible to this disease, so you should also let the veterinarian know whether your cat has recently been ill. During the exam your vet will also check for the presence of any ticks.
The definitive test for babesiosis involves examining a small sample of your cat’s blood under a microscope. Your vet will collect a small blood sample from your cat. This will involve a quick and painless stick of a small needle. Next, your vet will take a small amount of the sample and add a stain or dye. This stain will help differentiate different types of cells and organisms when looked at under a microscope. If your vet is experienced in identifying the condition, even the presence of a very small number of organisms will be easily identified.
Treatment of Babesiosis in Cats
The treatment of babesiosis in your cat will involve administering a prescription drug called primaquine phosphate. The drug is available orally or subcutaneously, meaning under the skin via needle injection. The drug will kill off the protozoa parasites that are infecting your cat.
If your cat is very sick or the disease has progressed over a longer period of time, your cat may need supportive treatment such as additional fluids or monitoring in your vet’s office. Since the condition causes anemia, very sick animals may need blood transfusions in order to strengthen their immune systems and promote recovery. Finally, your vet will also prescribe a preventative flea and tick control treatment to help prevent the condition from recurring.
Recovery of Babesiosis in Cats
Most cats suffering from babesiosis will make a full recovery as long as careful attention is given to completing all medications and a preventative course is followed. Owners will need to carefully follow all vet instructions regarding dosing. The protozoa grows in multiple stages within your cat’s system. While the drug quickly kills off adult protozoa, many of the spores will be harder to kill and will take additional doses. Even if your cat appears to be feeling better, you should complete the entire course of medication.
Pet owners should also ensure that they follow a preventative flea and tick treatment. These pests can cause discomfort to your cat and carry disease such as babesiosis and more harmful or permanent conditions.