A deadly disease has been spreading among cats in Oklahoma in recent weeks, affecting dozens of pets across the region.
According to KFOR, the disease, dubbed "Bobcat Fever," has been spreading throughout rural Oklahoma, killing the cats who contract the disease very quickly. "Bobcat Fever" is called such because the disease's original hosts are the bobcats that roam the wooded areas of Oklahoma. Ticks that bite the bobcats then spread the disease to common house cats.
The disease does not appear to affect the bobcats themselves, and this particular disease targets only cats, not dogs or other pets. Ticks have been a common problem for pet owners in the area, and they have been briefed on the various ailments that their pets may be exposed to as a result of tick bites.
"The Lone Star tick has been carrying this disease for a long time, and cats have been getting it for a long time,” Dr. Laura Nafe, a veterinarian at OSU, told The Norman Transcript. “The Lone Star Tick is really common in Oklahoma and it carries a lot of diseases that affect cats and dogs.”
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"Bobcat Fever" can kill the infected cat within a week after the onset of symptoms, according to KFOR.
“It was just so sudden, I didn’t know about it prior to this,” resident and cat owner Barbara Tarbutton told The Norman Transcript. Tarbutton's cat contracted the disease and died in a matter of days. Tarbutton had been using topical flea and tick preventative on her cat, as well as medication administered by the veterinarian after the disease had spread.
“He couldn’t walk right and had a little blood from his nose," she said. "We took him to the vet, but he died. They put in a lot of effort to make sure that’s what it was and to get the medication."
Vets say that even with medication and treatment, cats infected with Bobcat Fever face survival odds of only 50 percent. They advise prevention in addition to treatment, telling pet owners to keep an eye out for bites and to keep pets inside, if possible.
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"The ticks this year have been awful. I've probably seen a five- to 10-fold increase and tick diseases this year not just in cats but dogs also,” Dr. David Biles, a vet with a Norman-area animal hospital, told KFOR.
"If we can get to it early enough, there are therapies we can do that will help the cat, but most cats will get the disease and pass away," Biles said.