Cat Scratch Disease

Cat Scratch Disease (aka “Cat scratch fever”) is caused by a bacteria, Bartonella henselae. Cats areCat Scratch Disease the resevoir host of the disease. Cats are very commonly infected with Bartonella although rarely develop disease associated with Bartonella. At this time, the disease is believed to be transmitted between cats by cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis felix). Exactly how the flea may transmit the bacteria is unknown. It is suspected that some ticks (Ixodes species) may also spread the disease.
When infected with Bartonella henselae, not all cats develop illness. The signs of Cat Scratch Disease in cats are extremely vague and highly variable. They can range from inflammation of the eye (uveitis), fever, oral inflammation (stomatitis), enlarged lymph nodes, and neurological signs such as seizures, tremors, or abnormal movements of the eye (nystagmus). Nearly any organ system in the body can be affected.
People become infected with Cat Scratch Disease after a bite or scratch from an infected cat. It is believed that flea feces, not saliva from the cat, allow the Bartonella bacteria to enter an open wound. The Bartonella then replicates and causes fever and severely enlarged lymph nodes in people within about two weeks after the bite or scratch.

Diagnosis of cat scratch disease

Diagnosis of cat scratch disease in cats can be difficult since the signs are so vague and can affect nearly any organ system in the body. The testing methods available are PCR, antibody titer, or culture.  The recommended laboratory for Bartonella testing for cats and people is Galaxy Diagnostics.   But, since many healthy cats will test positive for Bartonella, it is difficult to determine which cats actually have an active infection.
Diagnosis of Cat Scratch Disease in people is usually made via the history of a cat bite or scratch, the presence of fever and enlarged lymph nodes in the area near the scratch. Occasionally IFA blood testing can be used to confirm the diagnosis or lymph nodes are tested to make sure there is not some other cause for enlargement.

Treatment of cat scratch disease

Treatment of Cat Scratch Disease is with antibiotics, typically Doxycycline or Azithromycin. The course of antibiotics is usually for several weeks. In cats with Bartonella, there are no studies proving treatment with antibiotics clears the disease but most cats with PCR-positive disease do show improvement after administration of antibiotics. People with Cat Scratch Disease are typically cured after antibiotic treatment unless there is a complicating secondary immunosupressive condition such as HIV.

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Dr Peter Nurre

Peter Nurre, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include internal medicine and cardiology.

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