Latest Information on Feline Bartonella

Latest Information on Feline Bartonella

By Dr. Ed Mapes
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
McKinney, Tx

I have described the Bartonella bacterial organisms previously, and discussed how they infect cats by way of flea or tick bites and lead to a number of serious illnesses in cats. A part of our keen interest in diagnosing and treating infected cats is due to the fact that they can spread the disease to humans with the potential to cause a whole range of diseases in them.

Infected kittens are especially likely to spread the disease, and for that reason we recommend testing all kittens for Bartonella on their first visit to the veterinary hospital. Children often allow kittens to lick their faces, to eat from their plates and to sleep in their beds.  They also play more vigorously with the kittens than do the adults in the households, thereby receiving playful bites and scratches more frequently than the adults.

Bartonella organisms are found in the blood plasma, inside red blood cells, and in tissues of infected cats.  In order to be transmitted to people, the organism must be present on the claws (scratch), in the mouth (bites), or on the fur (contact- no abrasion) of infected cats.

Infected kittens are growing rapidly and have changing dentition leading to the probability that Bartonella can leak into the oral cavity.  The loss of kitten teeth or oral trauma due to rough play, chewing and playful fighting, can lead to Bartonella in the oral cavity. Cats groom themselves frequently thereby depositing Bartonella organisms from the oral cavity onto their fur or claws.  The fact that kittens and children are both more playful toward each other presents the conditions needed for the transmission from kittens to children.

Kittens less than six months old that have been exposed to Bartonella may test negative because their immune systems may not have yet produced antibody to the organism. Studies have shown that 17% of kittens with a negative result on their initial Bartonella test are actually carrying the disease, and have positive results on testing done after six months of age.

Because of this discrepancy and the fact that the kitten may still harbor the organism and may still spread it to people in the home, we have adopted a new strategy to ensure the health of these young kittens: re-testing kittens with previous negative results will allow us diagnose disease in kittens that produce antibody after the initial test.

Updated Bartonella Test Algorithm for Kittens 6 Months Old or Younger

Figure 1: Updated Bartonella Test Algorithm for Kittens 6 Months Old or Younger

Comments are closed.