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Published December 16, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Fever a threat to cats

Dear Dr. Fox: We recently learned of something called bobcat tick fever (Cytauxzoonosis). Numerous cats have been lost to it. Our neighbors just lost one of their four cats. We understand that most cats do not survive and that not much can be done to prevent it. Our neighbors are using a powder form of Sevin insecticide on their surviving cats. Is it safe and effective?

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: We recently learned of something

called bobcat tick fever (Cytauxzoonosis). Numerous cats have been lost to it. Our neighbors just lost one of their four cats.

We understand that most cats do not survive and that not much can be done to prevent it. Our neighbors are using a powder form of Sevin insecticide on their surviving cats. Is it safe and effective?

Our wonderful cat is an indoor/outdoor cat. Since we learned of the fever, we have kept her in the house, but she is not happy about it. Are there any vaccines available? What can we do to help her? – G.M.G., Turners, Mo.

Dear G.M.G.: The disease Cytauxzoonosis is caused by the blood parasite Cytauxzoon, first reported in the United States in 1976. The disease is carried by bobcats and is transmitted by ticks to domestic cats, to which the disease is usually fatal. The parasite is evident in Southern states where this tick thrives, including Texas, Florida and the Carolinas. But with climate change, it is likely to spread to Northern states. It is not transmissible to dogs or humans.

Infected cats require emergency care, including oxygen, intravenous fluids, anticoagulants, whole blood, a nasogastric tube to supply nutrients and oral medications such as atovaqnuoe and azithromycin.

Sevin is a carbaryl-based insecticide that is falling out of favor for garden use, especially because it is highly toxic to bees and there are safer alternatives. Putting it on cats is beyond stupid; Sevin is a far greater health risk than bobcat fever-carrying ticks!

Alternative tick repellants on the market are not 100 percent reliable, and not all are safe for cats, so I see no alternative but to keep cats indoors. Cats used to going outdoors generally adapt better to indoor life when they have a feline companion and climbing trees, cat condos and carpeted window shelves so they can enjoy looking outdoors. Interactive play with them is also important, as is provision of a sturdy scratch post. Some cats adapt well to wearing a harness and enjoy outdoor walks, keeping clear of all bushy areas that may harbor ticks.

Free-roaming and feral house cats who survive this disease may become carriers like the bobcat, one of many rare carnivores suffering loss of habitat and extinction due to human encroachment, trapping and hunting.

Dear Dr. Fox: My 11-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Katie, is having a liver crisis. When I got her five years ago, she had severe heartworm and periodontal disease. She also had a mast cell tumor on her back. All were treated successfully.

She has always been a finicky eater, but because of irritable bowel syndrome, she has been put on Hills i/d diet food. On good days, she weighs 9 pounds.

In March, Katie ruptured three discs in her back. She had just had her six-month geriatric lab work done. Everything came back normal, and she had surgery to repair her back. In July, Katie went in for her six-month lab work, three-year rabies shot and six-month Bordetella. Her lab work came back fine, with only a slight elevation in liver enzymes (200). She was put on Denamarin, and six weeks later she had no appetite. Biopsy showed fibrosis and cirrhosis. Could the rabies shot have caused this? – P.L., Winchester, Va.

Dear P.L.: Poor Katie has faced many health problems, no doubt from her poor start in life before you adopted her. Poor nutrition and lack of regular veterinary care (including normal health checkups and heartworm preventive medicine) can wreck an animal’s chances of enjoying a healthy life. This is also true for puppies that came from puppy mills, where many commercial breeders do not provide pregnant dogs with good nutrition and veterinary care. Their offspring, sold in pet stores and on the Internet, suffer the consequences, often compounded by inherited genetic diseases.

Your old dog’s liver is reflecting a lifelong battle after a poor start in life. Katie may enjoy some improvement with a special diet of good-quality protein and various supplements, which your veterinarian can provide in appropriate doses. These include vitamins A, E and B- complex; L-carnitine; and zinc, in addition to the Denamarin already prescribed. (Denamarin is a liver- benefiting formulation of an extract of milk thistle and methionine, an important amino acid.)

The rabies vaccination could not have brought on this chronic liver disease, but it certainly could have played a role in stressing her system beyond its capacity to maintain normal physiological functions and regulatory activities. Sick animals should never be vaccinated, as I emphasize in my new book, “Healing Animals & The Vision of One Health”.

Dear Dr. Fox: My old gerbil has a lump on the lower part of his chest and partly over his tummy. It seems more swollen than usual, and I wonder if it is cancer. Should I take him to the vet? I guess it will cost me more than I paid for him, but he’s worth it to me. – M.W., Norman, Okla.

Dear M.W.: I am glad that you are not one of those people who say that seeing a veterinarian isn’t worth the expense for an animal you paid only a few dollars for.

First, you should know that what you are seeing on the underside of your gerbil is a scent-marking gland that tends to get bigger with age. Rarely does it become cancerous. More often, it is a mild infection and inflammation that can be treated by careful cleaning and application of an antibiotic ointment the veterinarian can prescribe. Call first, tell them how old you are and ask what they might charge you after my provisional diagnosis.

After applying the ointment, you should keep your gerbil actively distracted for as long as you can – at least half an hour – to stop him from licking off the medication.

Book review

I do not review many books I receive from publishers because they add nothing new for the benefit of animals, or are simply warm and fuzzy sweet nothings. But “Part Wild: One Woman’s Journey With a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs” (Scribner) is an exception.

The book is author Ceiridwen Terrill’s deeply moving and disturbing saga of her dedicated and valiant attempts to share her life with a purpose-bred wolf-dog pup. Interwoven with well-researched information about wolves and domestication, with visits to several breeding facilities and sanctuaries for abandoned hybrids, this book should be read by all who might contemplate buying one of these poor misfits, of which there are some 300,000 in the United States. Their conflicted natures almost invariably lead to a tragic end, and yet the moments of pure wildness that united the spirits of the author and her wolf dog, Inyo, will touch the soul. (For pure wolf insights, check my own book, “The Soul of the Wolf,” available in e-book format from Dogwise Publishing.)

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at