What are Ehrlichiosis?
Ehrlichiosis in felines is believed to be a tick-born disease caused by one of several intracellular organisms known as rickettsial. Belonging to the genus, Ehrlichia, the primary causative agents to cause ehrlichiosis in cats are Ehrlichia risticii (E. risticii) and Ehrlichia canis (E. canis ). The organisms act like parasites, entering and infecting eukaryotic cells, eventually destroying the cell. Ehrlichiosis is present in geographical regions that support tick life including the United States, France, and warmer regions of the world. Over 50 cases of ehrlichiosis in cats have been proven with accurate diagnoses completed through a PCR test capable of detecting the Ehrlichia polymerase chain reaction.
Ehrlichiosis in cats is a rare disease that is believed to be caused by the blood-feeding parasite, the tick. Ehrlichiosis disease is caused by rickettsial organisms that are microscopic in size and attack the various cells of the feline body. Rickettsial organisms act differently than bacterial or viral infections, as they enter the cell, destroying said cell from the inside. The mass cell destruction causes clinical signs of swollen joints, pale gums and breathing difficulties in cats. If the feline’s condition is not properly diagnosed and treated, ehrlichiosis could progress to a life-threatening condition.
Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in Cats
Felines with Ehrlichiosis have variable symptoms including dyspnea or coughing, edema of the limbs and reluctance to walk. The cat may develop a stiffness to her body, become depressed and anorexic, reluctant to eat. Clinical signs cat owner may note at home, which indicate an ehrlichiosis infection include:
- Inner eye inflammation
- Eye discharge
- Swollen joints
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Difficulty breathing
- Pale mucous membranes
- Weight loss
Causes of Ehrlichiosis in Cats
Ehrlichiosis contraction in cats is not well understood, but ticks have been identified as the most probable link to this uncommon disease. Ticks acquire the ehrlichiosis organism by feeding on infected hosts. The organism remains in the tick host throughout the external parasite’s life stages. The tick can then transmit the intracellular organism to the feline when they feed on its blood. It is estimated that the Ehrlichia spp. Can be transmitted within three to six hours upon tick attachment, therefore, an infected tick may not infect the feline if said parasite is removed prior to three hours’ time. Left attached, the tick transmits the Ehrlichia organism, which enter the cat’s platelets, granulocytes and mononuclear leukocytes, multiplying and progressively destroying the cells.
Diagnosis of Ehrlichiosis in Cats
The Ehrlichia polymerase chain reaction test, or PCR, is the only test capable of detecting the presence of the rickettsial parasite, confirming the diagnosis of ehrlichiosis in cat. However, as ehrlichiosis is a rare disease in cats, a differential diagnosis is completed prior to PCR testing.
Low platelet counts, low white blood cell counts and increased protein levels in the blood are common abnormalities found in feline ehrlichiosis. Tests include:
- CBC: Complete blood cell count
- Biochemical profile
- Platelet count
On occasion, the organisms can be found residing within the cell under microscopic view.
X-rays often reveal an enlarged liver or spleen, the two organs that house affected cells.
Bone Marrow Aspirate
A fine needle biopsy of the cat’s bone marrow can detect the overall health of the cells and cell count within the house of production.
The cat’s immune system may react to the parasite by creating antibodies against it, which would be present in the blood serum.
Treatment of Ehrlichiosis in Cats
Ehrlichiosis in cats may be treated as an inpatient or outpatient procedure, depending on the feline’s current state. In acute infections, the feline will likely be prescribed antibiotic therapy as antimicrobial medication is an effective treatment for ehrlichiosis. If the feline is severely ill, the doctor may admit her to hospital care, administering intravenous fluid therapy and transfusions of blood in the incidence of severe anemia. Commonly, the veterinarian prescribes antibiotics of the tetracycline drug family including minocycline, oxytetracycline, tetracycline or doxycycline.
Recovery of Ehrlichiosis in Cats
Clinical improvement is reported for most cats following antibiotic therapy of imidocarb dipropionate, doxycycline and/or tetracycline. The prognosis for ehrlichiosis in cats is especially positive for immunocompetent felines, but cats with weak immune systems may have a lesser prognosis. Follow-up appointments are to be expected in ehrlichiosis cases in felines as the veterinarian will want to note your cat’s progress and reaction to the drugs.
Arthropod vectors (ticks) should be controlled in your cat’s environment to prevent reoccurrence through use of a topical anti-parasitic drug. If your cat was or will be a blood donor, she should be screened for the ehrlichiosis organism before making a contribution.
Ehrlichiosis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat Chloe came in from outside with a tick on her forehead I couldn't get the tick off she took off running for me so it was the next day before I got it off of her. Sometime after that she became very lethargic sleeping all the time her ears were bright red in the beginning and then she went completely pale her nose or ears very pale. She has seen four different vet they have done blood work twice and according to the blood work they said she had an infection of some sorts that she had had for a little while she's been on four different antibiotics I have been telling all of these vet that I believe it was from the tick but for some reason they don't seem to take it seriously. She is not any better today then she was 4 weeks ago. She is crippled in her back end and she has been like this for at least 3 weeks. She still eats and drinks but I have to hold it food and water for her. Other than that she really doesn't try to move much at all she just stays put in her little box looking very very miserable. I'm not sure if she's in pain or if she just feels really bad but she does not look well and she looks like she's just wasting away. She started out on amoxicillin for one week because the first vet said she had a bad ear infections I took her back and told him she wasn't any better after that one week and he said she wasn't running a fever so she's just a lazy cat. And I told him she's never been lazy cat but he just dismissed it as her being lazy cat and wouldn't do anything else for her. I took her to the second vet he did blood panel on her and the markers showed him that she had a bacterial infection of some sort and that it had been going on for a while. At that time he gave me the antibiotic Orbax. He said to give it to her until it was gone that it was going to take a little while to clear the infection so I did. No improvement. I took her to a third vet who finally agreed with me that it could be a tick-borne disease and she put her on doxycycline and prednisone. But mistaking the dropper in the medicine bottle to be the dose that they told me to give her that's all I was giving her and it wasn't helping so I took her to another vet who did a couple of x-rays and a fecal test and said this was just like a puzzle but they're trying to find the pieces for to put it together in other words still no diagnosis. She was put on clindamycin and she has been on that for a week no improvement. During the switch from the doxycycline to the clindamycin I decided to put a dropper full of a clindamycin into a syringe just to check and see if it was the right dosage and it was not. It was only half the amount that she was supposed to be getting. That is probably why it wasn't working for her because I'm an idiot. Now here we are months later she can't walk I'm assuming she's in pain by the way she does her body all the time. I have looked for anything that says clindamycin can treat any tick borne diseases and I cannot find anything on that so I'm going to go on my own here and hope that I'm doing the right thing for her and I'm going to put her back on the doxycycline got the right dose this time and starter back on the prednisone and I really hope that I'm doing the right thing for her. If anyone has suggestions or Warnings or anything I need to know I would really appreciate that. If this doesn't work really fast I feel like I have no options but to let her go. It's not fair for her to continue to suffer while everybody tries to figure this thing out she has every symptoms. Actually win the whole thing started and she was going through the phases her symptoms line dried up with Lyme disease but they say the cats don't get Lyme disease in Oklahoma. But they also say it's because the chick that carries the disease is not in Oklahoma but I have a friend who is still trying to get over Lyme disease so that is constantly giving itself. Nevertheless doxycycline is the drug to use regardless and I would really appreciate any help and advice I could get
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