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Vets warn cat owners about deadly tick disease

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Experts at Kansas State University are warning pet owners to watch out for ticks carrying a disease that could kill cats.

Veterinarians say the summer is the peak season for Cytauxzoon felis, also known as bobcat fever, which is a blood parasite that infects domestic cats and has a very high death rate.

Susan Nelson, a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at K-State's Veterinary Health Center, said the disease was thought to be carried only by the American dog tick, but now may be carried by the lone star tick.

"Most people have probably seen a lone star tick even if they're not familiar with them by name," said Nelson in a written statement. "They're the ones that have a bright white spot on their back."

Lone star ticks are mainly found in eastern Kansas and in the Southeastern United States. So far, experts have not found any west of Clay Center, KS, but expect its territory will expand.

The disease does not impact dogs or people.  It is called bobcat fever because bobcats are considered the main reservoir for the disease and is typically not fatal for them.

If your cat has contracted the disease, it will show symptoms five to 20 days after a tick bite.

Experts says pet owners will notice a loss of appetite, fever and the cat might be lethargic.

A cat may be infected even if people don't see a tick on the animal, because the tick may have already fed and dropped off the cat before the animal starts showing symptoms of the disease.

No vaccine is available for this disease. Treatment can be expensive and often unsuccessful.

So experts say it is important to take precautionary steps to keep cats from being bitten.

Nelson said the best thing to do is to keep cats indoors.  But if that is not an option, then keep the yard well maintained.

"If your cat likes to stay in the yard, try to keep your grass mowed down so it's not tall," Nelson said. "The ticks tend to like the taller grasses. Keep the shrubbery trimmed short and remove debris around your house. Do daily tick checks on the cats and remember to look between their toes."

And if a cat lives with a dog, Nelson said, make sure pet owners are using some type of tick control on the dog as it can bring ticks into the house, which can then feed on cats.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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