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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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
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.
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.
Treatment of bartonellosis includes:
- Supportive care
- Organ-specific treatment depending on symptoms and severity