Going Beyond The Bite: Haemobartonellosis and Fleas

Cat owners are well aware that fleas are a nasty pest that can leave a cat covered in itchy bumps and even induce anemia. However, this isn’t the only threat that fleas can pose. Fleas can also carry diseases that can potentially sicken your cat or even cause death if the illness isn’t discovered and treated in time. You should be aware of what haemobartonellosis is, how it can harm your cat, and what you should do to protect your cat from the disease.

Haemobartonellosis

Haemobartonellosis is a type of contagious anemia that’s caused by a type of bacteria called Mycoplasma haemofelis. When the bacteria enters your cat’s bloodstream, it infects the red blood cells. Your cat’s immune system then recognizes the infection and attacks the bacteria, but it also destroys the red blood cells in the process. As a result, your cat’s red blood cell count plummets, causing them to become anemic. If left untreated, your cat’s own immune system may ultimately make them so anemic that they may die.

Fleas

Fleas spread this illness by biting animals that are currently infected with the mycoplasma, which then go on to bite other animals and spread it to them. Unfortunately, this means that just one flea can potentially severely sicken your cat. The only way to protect your cat entirely from this illness is to make sure your cat is thoroughly protected from fleas. This usuallyrequires regular anti-flea medication treatments that are designed to repel or kill any fleas before they’re able to bite your cat.

Symptoms

Cats who contract haemobartonellosis show a combination of symptoms that are common to both anemia and a bacterial infection. An individual cat may show only some of these symptoms or all of them, but the list includes:

  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Pale gums and/or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing, or exhaustion after minor activity

Treatment

If your cat becomes infected with haemobartonellosis, it’s important to get treatment right away. If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should get your cat to the vet immediately.

Veterinarians typically treat haemobartonellosis by treating the infection and restoring your cat’s lost blood supply, if it’s deemed necessary. Beating the infection will require antibiotics, and your vet may also decide to use a steroid like prednisone to temporarily diminish your cat’s immune system response. This treatment can help to protect your cat’s remaining red blood cells until the infection is killed by the antibiotics.

If your cat is extremely anemic, your veterinarian will need to assess that as well. In some cases, vets prescribe medications to stimulate the cat’s bone marrow, which will help them to produce more red blood cells naturally. If the anemia is quite severe, they may instead use blood transfusions to immediately boost your cat’s red blood cell count. Transfusions are typically used if the cat is so anemic that they’re having difficulty breathing.

Fleas can be extremely dangerous to a cat’s health in a variety of ways, and just one infected flea can potentially cause a cat to die. If your cat isn’t ill, work with your vet to choose the best anti-flea medication for your cat. If they are already ill, going to the vet immediately could save your cat’s life.

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