Bartonella and cat scratch disease
In recent years there has been an emerging interest in diseases possibly transmitted from cats to people through a scratch or bite. In my opinion, much of this centers on unjustified fear rather than the true medical facts and risks. As conventional veterinary researchers continue to look for new bacteria or parasites that our companion animals may be putting us at risk for to justify more expensive diagnostic testing and drug treatments, it is important not to get caught up in the whirlwind of media fear and hype.
There is not a condition that demonstrates this more than the recent concern about Bartonella transmission to people from our domestic cats, and subsequent illnesses such as cat scratch disease in people that can cause swollen lymph nodes and fevers due to exposure to this bacterium. It is known to be carried by fleas as well, making parasite control with Frontline Plus or Advantage II an important part of parasite management in our dogs and cats.
In some reports, well over 90 percent of cats can test positive for Bartonella, and this common mouth bacteria in cats is often blamed for cases of gingivitis/stomatitis and oral infections, as well as other conditions like inflammation of the airways/sneezing, as well as even diabetes. However, as feline expert Michael Lappin, DVM, PhD has remarked, a definitive link between Bartonella and these diseases in cats has not been proven. Because many clinically normal cats carry Bartonella in their mouths, we can’t be sure what a positive test means, as well as the role this bacterium causes in feline diseases.
Should we test and/or get rid of all our cats because most of them carry Bartonella in their mouths, or test positive and possibly pose a risk to us for feline scratch disease? Should every cat with chronic sneezing or gingivitis/stomatitis (an ever increasing disease seen in cats of all ages) be treated with expensive antibiotics such as Azithromycin, Baytril or Doxycycline because of a positive test result that can be seen in the majority of the pet population? I hardly think so, which in my opinion makes the concern about the Bartonella bacteria and the role it plays in both feline diseases, and in the risk of cats to people for cat scratch disease, overblown and not a cause for alarm, concern or treatment in most cases.
Rather than unnecessary testing and long-term antibiotic treatment, I believe that practicing good flea/tick control with the flea medications mentioned above, as well as being careful when handling cats who might be aggressive, is the best advice I can give.