Feline Infectious Anemia
Frosty is a beautiful kitten, about six months old, who sat by our door during the cold weather until we adopted her. Lately she has been sick, so we took her to our veterinarian. She said Frosty has feline infectious anemia and started treating her. Can you tell us a little about this condition?
A parasite which lives on the outer surface of red blood cells causes feline infectious anemia. This organism, called Haemobartonella felis, is passed several ways. Frosty could have been born with it or come in contact with it through a flea or mosquito bite. Parasites can be passed along any time blood is transmitted. After reproducing long enough and infecting enough blood cells, they make the cat sick. This is not a very common problem, but veterinarians are always on the lookout for it. If severe enough, it causes some pretty dramatic symptoms. Kittens can be febrile (feverish) and begin showing signs of anemia. In extreme cases, they become weakened. I am glad you had Frosty tested because infectious anemia can be fatal if undiagnosed and untreated. Frosty probably is taking an oral tetracycline which will produce a dramatic improvement. You should realize, however, that therapy does not completely wipe out the organisms. The kitten will remain a chronically infected carrier animal. This is significant. It means that you should keep Frosty inside, have no other cats in the household and generally isolate her from other cats so she won't pass the problem to them. You also should watch for a recurrence of signs indicating a new flare up although Frosty may never be sick again. I've given you a pretty grim picture, but most of the time the symptoms never recur and the disease responds to treatment. I believe it is helpful for you to understand the situation, even if it sounds bleak, because you now are better prepared to help your pet.