"Cytauxzoonosis was once considered obscure," says Gunter, who practices in a tick hotspot 90 miles southeast of Springfield, MO, and about 30 minutes from the Arkansas border. "After all, cytauxzoonosis was only discovered in 1976. Today, there are far more ticks. And where there are ticks, there's disease."
Previously, only about a quarter of all cats (an estimate considered high by many experts) previously lived following a diagnosis of cytauxzoonosis. Cohn's new protocol is a combination of two drugs: a common antibiotic called Azithromycin and a not-so-common drug (and somewhat expensive drug) used for several purposes, including as an anti-malarial drug, called Atovaquone. Cats diagnosed with cytauxzoonosis also require at least a few days of hospitalization with supportive medical care.
At one of the veterinary clinics that tested Cohn's new drug protocol in Gainesville, Mo., a few years ago, Dr. Robin Deck reports that the vast majority of cats previously died from cytauxzoonosis. Using Cohn's treatment protocol, 98 percent lived.
Cohn's data isn't quite so optimistic; she suggests that 60 percent of cats survive using her protocol, which is certainly an improvement.
"Still, that means nearly half die; that's too many for me to consider success," Cohn says.
One secret to success is observing symptoms early. The disease progresses so quickly that even waiting a few days for a diagnosis might mean the difference between life and death. Cohn says the entire course of the disease is three to five days.
"Many of the symptoms are general, so owners attribute not eating, for example, to being finicky," says Cohn. "Or GI distress to just something that happens. If you live where cytauxzoonosis occurs, early intervention can save your cat's life."
Symptoms may include GI distress, lack of appetite, high fever, anemia (nose may appear pale), dyspnea (labored breathing) and jaundice.
Cytauxzoonosis occurs in all states southeast of Missouri and Kansas, south of Kentucky to the Gulf of Mexico, and East of those three states to the Atlantic Ocean. However, as tick numbers continue to grow across the U.S., cytauxzoonisis has likely begun to spread elsewhere.
Prevention is possible, suggests Cohn. There are two general types of prevention. The best is to keep cats indoors. While it's not unheard of for ticks to fall from people or dogs (particularly dogs without tick protection) and attach themselves to a cat, being indoors offers a good level of protection.
For cats allowed outdoors, even for short periods of time, where cytauxzoonosis occurs, Cohn strongly recommends tick protection.
"Unfortunately, there aren't as many quality products available and safe for cats to use (as for dogs)," she says.
The two options she suggests are a new tick collar made for cats called Seresto. The collar is effective because it actually repels ticks (as well as killing them). Seresto also kills fleas. This collar is sold over-the-counter and online. Seresto is effective for eight months.
There's also a monthly spot on product, which has been the standard choice for tick protection in cats, called Frontline Plus. Frontline also kills fleas, and sold over-the-counter, through veterinarians and online.
"I hate this disease," says Cohn. "It's just a horrible disease and so unfair to the often very young and healthy cats in the prime of their lives."
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)