Franky’s tale

Franky’s tale

UF veterinarians save cat with deadly parasite

By Sarah Carey

Franky underwent treatment at UF for bobcat fever. The parasite usually kills pets before they can even be treated./Photo by Sarah Carey

A 5-year-old cat named Franky is at home in Micanopy with his owners after successful treatment at the UF Small Animal Hospital for an infection with a deadly blood parasite most people have never heard of — cytauxzoon. It’s the first time UF veterinarians say they remember seeing, much less successfully treating, such a case.

UF veterinarians used a new treatment protocol they hope will help them save more animals diagnosed with cytauxzoon, also known as bobcat fever.

“This parasite is not that rare, but almost all animals afflicted with it die quickly, so we usually don’t see them here,” said Gareth Buckley, Vet.M.B., a clinical assistant professor and emergency and critical care specialist at UF.

Owned by John Prosser and Ann Murray of Micanopy, Franky first began showing signs of illness in September.

“We were walking around our yard one morning and noticed Franky was behaving a little strangely,” Murray said. ”He was drinking out of the pool, crouched down. We thought we needed to get him to the vet, that maybe he had a bladder infection.”

Prosser and Murray took the animal to their veterinarian, who kept him overnight for observation. The following morning, Franky’s condition had deteriorated and the couple was advised to bring him to UF.

Basic bloodwork was performed and Ashley Allen, D.V.M., an intern in small animal medicine and surgery, noticed the presence of parasites in red blood cells. Further diagnostics by UF veterinary pathologists confirmed that the parasite was cytauxzoon.

Dr. Ashley Allen, a small animal medicine intern at UF, examines Franky while the cat’s owner, John Prosser, looks on./Photo by Sarah Carey

“Dr. Allen actually drove to the pharmacy in the middle of the night, since the new treatment protocol we used called for antiprotozoal drugs we do not keep in stock,” Buckley said.

Franky remained very sick for several days. Veterinarians used diuretics to rid the cat of fluid in his lungs and administered oxygen for two days. Franky also became anemic and experienced severe gastrointestinal bleeding that resulted in two blood transfusions during his weeklong hospital stay.

Franky’s owners realized their cat’s illness could be fatal. Yet they never lost hope.

“He was struggling hard, but we felt optimistic that Franky was fighting and staying alive,” Murray said. “It was touch-and-go for a few days, and Dr. Allen was wonderfully conscientious about keeping us informed and helping us understand the process. We knew that she and the other veterinarians were truly pulling for Franky’s recovery and that meant so much to us.”

Although she and Prosser have two other cats, Ann said Franky was the most “people friendly” of the three and had never been sick before.

“That’s partly why we wanted to give him this chance,” she said. “We always hoped for the best and tried to do whatever we could for him.”

Soon after Franky went home, he began to improve dramatically, although it took a few days for his appetite to return to normal.

“Re-checks indicate that Franky is a happy, healthy cat with no long-term side effects,” Buckley said.

The protocol UF veterinarians used to treat Franky was reported at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine’s annual meeting, during a presentation Allen attended.

“The important thing is that although infection with this parasite happens when it happens, we want veterinarians as well as members of the public to know that we have now shown that we can successfully treat these cases,” Buckley said.