Cat Scratch Fever in Dogs

Cat Scratch Fever in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Cat Scratch Fever?

When a dog is bitten by fleas, sand flies, or lice, bacteria enters the blood and results in cat scratch fever. Bartonella will invade and damage cells, causing your companion to become ill. If your dog appears to be suffering from malaise and is lethargic or depressed, you may want to take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Weight loss and appetite reduction may be apparent as well, though some dogs may not reveal the clinical signs associated with this condition. Because of this, any small sign of your pet being unwell means a veterinarian visit is necessary. An illness, even though it may seem mild, can escalate and lead to serious complications for your pet.

Dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors, who live in rural areas, or who like to roam in fields or along the water’s edge can be exposed to sand flies, ticks, fleas and lice on a regular basis.

Dogs are infected by the Bartonella spp bacteria through fleas, ticks, lice and sand flies. This zoonotic disease can be transmitted from dog to pet owner.

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Symptoms of Cat Scratch Fever in Dogs

Some canines may not exhibit clinical signs of catch scratch fever. Some of the subtle signs may be fever, weakness and enlarged lymph nodes. Symptoms that can be more obvious are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Bloody nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing and vomiting
  • Lameness
  • Nasal discharge


Dogs can be adversely affected by five species of the Bartonella disease, which includes:

  • B. henselae
  • B. elizabethae 
  • B. vinsonii subspecies berkhoffi
  • B. washoensis 
  • B. clarridgeiae

Causes of Cat Scratch Fever in Dogs

Bartonellosis or cat scratch fever is a condition resulting from Bartonella, the bacteria associated with the disease. Bartonella has various subspecies and with each of them there are different symptoms. The endothelial and red blood cells are affected in most dogs. 

Some of the causes include:

  • Tick and flea infestation in the past
  • Exposure to lice, flea, sand flies and lice
  • Infection of Bacterium Bartonella
  • Rural or stray living environment

Diagnosis of Cat Scratch Fever in Dogs

For a diagnosis, the veterinarian will conduct a series of tests and complete examination. Clinical signs such as bleeding from the nose and coughing accompanied by vomiting will indicate a serious illness. Further diagnostic testing may be suggested and will include:

  • Blood count
  • Urinalysis
  • Blood culture
  • Serology
  • Biochemistry profile

The veterinary team will be looking for markers specific to catch scratch fever such as liver enzyme levels, protein concentration, and white blood cell count.

Treatment of Cat Scratch Fever in Dogs

The symptoms will determine the level of treatment or whether your dog needs antibiotics or not. If your dog shows the clinical symptoms of this condition, then antibiotics may be necessary, in addition to supportive care. The veterinary specialist will often administer antibiotics for four to six weeks. If the dog’s internal organs or blood have been seriously affected, hospitalization might be the recourse for long-term supportive care with lower doses of antibiotics to avoid relapse. Effective antibiotics include:

  • Doxycycline
  • Erythromycin
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Azithromycin
  • Clarithromycin
  • Rifampin
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Recovery of Cat Scratch Fever in Dogs

Bartonellosis requires professional in-office care. Once your pet is on the mend, you can administer preventative care at home by making sure to maintain good hygiene. If you see your dog with scratches or bites, make sure you wash the area. Under the direction of your veterinary caregiver, maintain thorough flea control and use veterinary prescribed products that target ticks, lice and fleas.

Cat Scratch Fever Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


Pit bull




2 Years


18 found this helpful


18 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
My 2 yr old dog (pit/boxer) got scratched on the face, neck and arm pit by a cat two days ago. I took her to the vet for a bath only b/c of the spraying of the cat smell. I cleaned up the blood and put antiseptic on the areas as well as after the vet bath. Yesterday her energy and food intake were normal. Today, she hasn't eaten or come out of her bed. I made her get out of the bed and she had her tail tucked behind her and clearly was not interested. Is it necessary to take her to the emergency vet as our vet is closed today?

July 8, 2018

18 Recommendations

Lethargy may occur for a variety of reasons and is common among many diseases and conditions, however since there has been a history of a cat scratch it may be considered but is actually really rare for dogs to pick up an infection this way as fleas are the main mode of transmission. Keep an eye on Roxie and visit your Veterinarian or an Emergency Veterinarian if there is no improvement or symptoms get worse (fever, swollen lymph nodes). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 8, 2018

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Pit bull




6 Months


6 found this helpful


6 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Vomiting, Won'T Eat Or Drink
I have a six month old pit bull puppy that up until yesterday ruled the roost around here. But while at work my youngest son who has a kitten and visiting for the summer called me at work to tell me that Tipsie was throwing up everywhere in the house. Upon arrival from work my poor Tipsie wasn't herself at all. We have noticed that my son's cat is always jumping on the puppy and biting her ears. As of right now my poor Tipsie won't eat or drink anything and that includes her favorite thing which is ice cubes. I'm scared and don't want to lose my Tipsie but I also want to comfort my son and let him know that his kitten isn't at fault. PLEASE HELP... Saying I'm on a tight budget would be the understatement of the year.

July 8, 2018

6 Recommendations

There are many possible causes for vomiting in dogs which may include infections, parasites, foreign objects, poisoning, dietary issues among other problems. You should keep Tipsie isolated in one room and bathe the scratches with a dilute antiseptic, offer her some boiled chicken and rice to see if she can keep it down; if there is no improvement or if she is running a fever or any other concerning symptoms visit a Veterinarian regardless of cost. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 8, 2018

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