Haemobartonella (Feline Infectious Anemia)

Haemobartonella felis (feline infectious anemia) is caused by a bacteria that attaches to a cat's red blood cells and destroys them. The loss of red blood cells causes extreme anemia. Left untreated, 1/3 of cats die.

This disease can be transmitted by flea or tick bites, or potentially by cat-bite wounds. A history of cat-fight abscesses is a risk factor for Haemobartonella, as is being an outdoor cat, unvaccinated, or being FeLV+. Since Ed is vaccinated and FeLV negative, we suspect his history of being an outdoor kitty who has had abscesses and fleas was the cause of his infection. Remember, Ed joined the Indulged Furries after I found him with a terrible abscess on his ear; he also had tapeworms, which are transmitted by fleas. Ed's Haemobartonella showed up 8 years after I adopted him. The vet said the infection can lie dormant for a long time, then some stress causes it to manifest itself.

July 6 -8, 2003: Ed became very listless, anorexic (not eating), wasn't drinking, and was keeping to himself.  On the 8th he began vomiting.

July 9: I took him to his regular vet who found he had a temperature of 105. Normal body temperature for a cat is 100-102.5. A blood chemistry panel, abdominal x-ray were all normal. He was given i.v. fluids, i.v. antibiotics, and after a day-long stay was sent home with a prescription of antibiotics (cefa-drops). His vet called the next day to see how Ed was doing. Ed had not shown any improvement so he advised me to take Ed to the local 24-hour veterinary hospital that was staffed with several internal medicine specialists.  

July 10: Ed was admitted to the hospital. Over the next 5 days his care was managed by 2 internal medicine specialists. His temperature was 101.6; he was given i.v. fluids, pepcid (to stop the vomiting) and antibiotics (cephalax). An abdominal ultrasound was performed, along with tests for FeLV and FIV. The ultrasound showed a slightly inflamed gall bladder (not obviously diseased), and the FeLV and FIV tests were both negative. He was mildly anemic (hematocrit 25.6%) and his bilirubin was slightly elevated (5.0).  

July 11-12: Ed was jaundiced (his gums were yellowish).  He was started on another antibiotic (Baytril). This antibiotic caries a serious risk of causing blindness in cats, but it was decided the risk was one I had to take considering Ed's condition was poor, they had not yet been able to find the cause of his problems, and he was not responding to the other i.v. antibiotics.

July 13: Oral antibiotics were vomited, and his temperature had risen to 103. I.V. antibiotics were re-started. Ed was even more anemic, but his bilirubin level had decreased. 

July 14: Based on all the clinical signs and findings: negative x-ray & ultrasound, negative FeLV & FIV, jaundice & elevated bilirubin, a diagnosis of Haemobartonella was made. Ed was responding to antibiotics and was discharged from the hospital with a prescription of Zeniquin (marbofloxacin) 25 mg tablets once a day for 10 days. 

July 21: First recheck visit. Ed's bilirubin had returned to normal and so had his hematocrit (32%). The normal hematocrit meant his bone marrow was producing red blood cells.  One concern on his blood test was that his platelet level was extremely elevated (>1,500,000; normal is 170-60,000 cells/microliter). However, his platelet levels were normal on previous blood tests so the vet suspected it was elevated due to hormones telling his bone marrow to produce red blood cells to counteract anemia and the platelets spiked too.  Ed would have to return for a second follow-up visit to be sure this was the case.

August 5: Second recheck visit. All blood values normal! His weight was 13.7 pounds (up 1/2 pound). 

During his hospitalization, the vets and I were in frequent phone contact. They updated me with his condition, test results, and we discussed medications. I visited Ed at least twice a day. He was a very sick and unhappy kitty. His meow is usually "ornery" sounding, but now it was weak and sad-sounding. Since he was on i.v. fluids and medications the vet staff had to disconnect his i.v. line and secure the i.v. catheter in his front paw. Poor Ed couldn't stand up with the tube taped to his paw!  But that didn't prevent him from snuggling with his mom. Of course I let him nuzzle into my hair...his favorite indulgence.  I'd sit with him for 20-30 minutes, try to get him to eat something, and pet & comb him. Then I'd give him back to the vet staff to be taken back to his hospital cage. Poor Eddie Bear hated being caged-up at the hospital, but he was so sick there was no other option. I suspect Ed slept a lot, but sometimes when I talked to the vets on the phone, I could hear Ed in the background making his pathetic ornery little meow. We joke that Ed has a meow not even his mother loves! But it was a meow I was glad to hear over the phone, and even happier to have back in the Indulged Furry House!