Cat Scratch Fever (Bartonella Infection) in Dogs

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Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Bartonella infection in dogs is a disease caused by bacteria from the Bartonella species. The infection targets the blood vessels of various organs, including the heart, liver, lymph nodes, eyes, nose, and joints.

  • Dogs with bartonellosis present with a wide variety of symptoms such as lameness, nose bleeds, weakness, and pale gums
  • Transmission of Bartonella is unclear, but flea and tick vectors are suggested
  • Diagnosis focuses on physical examination and laboratory testing to detect bacteria in the bloodstream
  • Treatment includes antibiotics and medication to treat other symptoms such as pain relief or liver support medication in cases of hepatitis
  • Supportive care such as fluid therapy is required in severe cases
  • Prognosis varies according to severity of the disease
  • Some cases present with severe inflammation of the heart lining and muscle; these cases usually have a poor prognosis
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A closer look: Cat Scratch Fever (Bartonella Infection) in Dogs

Bartonellosis in dogs is an uncommon, but likely underdiagnosed, infection. The severity of symptoms varies significantly and prognosis varies similarly. Many infections are asymptomatic, and the patient's immune system clears the infection on its own. Other cases present with severe symptoms which are sometimes fatal. Dogs showing symptoms of bartonellosis require prompt veterinary treatment.

Symptoms result from infection of the blood cells causing inflammation in a particular organ. For example, inflammation of the joint surface results in lameness, whereas inflammation of the gastrointestinal system triggers vomiting and diarrhea.

In some cases, the immune system detects infection of the blood cells and destroys the cells to limit infection. This can result in anemia, which presents as weakness or lethargy, and pale gums.

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Risk factors

Any dog could become infected with Bartonella spp., as transmission is not well understood. Transmission from fleas and ticks is suggested but not confirmed.

The severity and duration of bartonellosis varies depending on:

  • Species of Bartonella causing infection
  • Degree of exposure
  • Strength of the immune response

Possible causes

Bartonellosis describes infection with Bartonella species bacteria. The infection route is poorly understood, but transmission appears to be a result of bites from fleas and ticks carrying Bartonella - known as vector transmission. Once a dog is infected, the bacteria infects red blood cells and spreads throughout the body.

Main symptoms

The symptoms of bartonellosis vary depending on the affected organ or body system.

Note: These symptoms are non-specific and may indicate numerous infectious diseases, including other diseases spread by ticks and fleas. Some cases of bartonellosis may be asymptomatic.

Testing and diagnosis

Investigation of bartonellosis involves:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood work
  • Bacterial ID - Detection of Bartonella species in the bloodstream
  • Diagnostic imaging of affected organs

Steps to Recovery

Treatment of bartonellosis focuses on:

  • Long courses of antibiotics to reduce infection
  • Supportive treatment such as fluid therapy

Treatments for the specific affected body system include:

  • Heart medications
  • Blood transfusions
  • Pain relief for cases of lameness or other painful conditions
  • Liver-support medications

The prognosis varies depending on the severity of the infection and symptoms. The disease is sometimes asymptomatic, while other cases develop severe, life-threatening inflammation of the heart. Dogs that recover from bartonellosis appear to be immune to subsequent exposures to the bacteria.


Prevention focuses on control of vectors. Routine administration of flea and tick control has been shown to reduce vector transmission.

Bartonella is able to infect multiple mammalian species including humans. Preventative measures are particularly important in households where humans or animals have weak immune systems.

Is Cat Scratch Fever (Bartonella Infection) in Dogs common?

The frequency of Bartonella infections is unknown but varies between regions. Negative tests do not rule out bartonellosis, and many dogs are not tested due to the lack of symptoms. The detection of antibodies is an indicator of exposure and antibodies are found in 10-85% of dogs depending on region.

Typical Treatment

Treatment of bartonellosis includes:

  • Antibiotics
  • Supportive care
  • Organ-specific treatment depending on symptoms and severity

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