Feline Diseases – Biliary

Feline Biliary (Babesiosis)

  • Veterinarian can perform test
  • Preventative action: Tick control is the only form of prevention.

Biliary in cats is caused by Babesia felis parasite. It is only found along the coastal regions of South-Africa (as well as other parts of the world). It is important to note that it does not present the same as in dogs. Most of the clinical signs include loss of appetite, lethargy, weakness and an unkempt hair coat. Fever and pale or yellow gums are uncommon in cats – except when other underlying diseases are present. These may include Mycoplasma (another tick-borne disease in cats), feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV/feline aids). Many of the same complications as in dogs are seen in cats – kidney failure, liver failure, and lung oedema and central nervous system signs.

The incubation period averages about two weeks, but symptoms may remain mild and some cases are not diagnosed for months to years. Piroplasm’s infect and replicate in the red blood cells, resulting in both direct and immune-mediated haemolytic anemia, where the red blood cells (RBCs) are broken down through haemolysis (destruction) and haemoglobin is released into the body. This release of haemoglobin can lead to jaundice, and to anemia when the body cannot produce enough new red blood cells to replace the ones being destroyed. 

The definitive test for babesiosis involves examining a small sample of your cat’s blood under a microscope. Your vet will collect a small blood sample from your cat. This will involve a quick and painless stick of a small needle. Next, your vet will take a small amount of the sample and add a stain or dye. This stain will help differentiate different types of cells and organisms when looked at under a microscope. If your vet is experienced in identifying the condition, even the presence of a very small number of organisms will be easily identified.

Luckily response to treatment is generally good if the disease is caught in time. When one of the above underlying diseases is present the prognosis is guarded in spite of correct treatment.

Symptoms of Biliary in Cats

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Unkempt coat or not thoroughly groomed as usual
  • Anaemia
  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Fever
  • Muscle Tremors
  • Unexplained Weight Loss (Anorexia)

How do I prevent this disease? 

Tick control is the only form of prevention. Dips, sprays, collars and spot-on treatments are all effective but must be used strictly according to manufacturers’ instructions for the best results. Some preparations are effective against only ticks or fleas and others are effective against both. Dips are generally cheaper than other treatments but weekly dipping is required, whereas spot-on are more expensive, but only a monthly application is usually required. Cats are very sensitive to poisons and dips and only a few products are safe for use in cats. Please make sure the product states that it is SAFE for cats; it would be best to discuss this with your veterinarian before using a new product. 

Never use a flea and tick product designed for dogs on your cat, as it can prove to be fatal.

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