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Bartonella Eye Disease In Cats



You can read about other forms of Bartonella disease here

Ron Hines DVM PhD

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In the last fifteen years, veterinarians have begun to recognize that a group of gram negative bacteria called Bartonella involved in a large variety of disease in cats.

These diseases involve chronic inflammation of tissues in various locations in your pet's body.

For years, veterinarians were faced with unexplainable eye inflamation in cats. Not too long ago, veterinarians found that Bartonella may be at the root of some of these perplexing cases.(ref)

Unfortunately this organism is very hard to isolate and grow in the laboratory. It is also quite common for cats to have been exposed to Bartonella without developing disease. So just the fact that tests show that your cat was, at some time, exposed to Bartonella does not mean that Bartonella is the cause of its current problem.

The most widely known disease caused by the Bartonella organisms is cat scratch fever in humans and cats. Dogs can also become infected. But, sometimes, the only signs we see in infected cats are inflamations of the eye. Cats with this disease can harbor Bartonella for years without any signs of sickness.

Fleas spread the organism from cat to cat. Fleas and ticks also have the potential to transmit the organism from pets to their owners. Some sources estimate that one in five cats is a carrier of Bartonella but this may be an exageration.

In addition to cats, five to ten percent of pet owners who contract cat scratch fever from their pets develop eye inflammation. This inflammation takes many forms. All portions of the eye can be affected. One or both eyes can be affected and even the eyelids may be involved.

When the anterior portion of the eye is inflamed the condition is called uveitis. When the cornea is inflamed the condition is called keratitis and when the membranes that surround the eye are affected it is called conjunctivitis. When any of these syndromes occur in cats, we can only identify the cause in less than half the cases.

Until recently, we assumed that many of the cases of uveitis were due toToxoplasmosis. Cats are the natural hosts of Toxoplasmosis and many cats have a history of exposure to toxoplasmosis. We made this assumption based on antibody levels to toxoplasma in the pet . However, the presence of antibody to toxoplasma does not necessarily mean that the eye problem is related, and we now think that many of these cases are probably due to Bartonella.

There are several blood test we use to detect Bartonella infection . Using this test, it appears that about twenty percent of cats in the United States carry Bartonella. In another study, of cats showing eye inflammation, 67.5% were positive for Bartonella using these test.

Recent studies have shown that several antibiotics are successful in eliminating Bartonella infection. The least expensive of these antibiotics, doxycycline. When using doxycycline capsules or tablets it is important to wash the pills down the cat’s throat with liquids to prevent ulceration and inflammation of the esophagus.

Anotherantibiotic, azithromycin (Zithromax) is also effective. Azithromycin is currently the drug of choice because it will kill mycoplasma which may also be present.

Rifampin (Rifampicin, etc.), an antibiotic often used to treat human tuberculosis is also effective. It is usually administered with a second antibiotic.

While the cat is being treated, corticosteroid and atropine-containing’ eye drops are often given to inhibit scaring and pathological changes in the structure of the eye. Non-medicated eye drops help correct dry eye, which occasionally occurs, with azithromycin administration. When treatment is successful, antibody levels to bartonells should begin to decrease in six month.