Babesiosis in Cats (Felis) | Vetlexicon
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ISSN 2398-2950


  • Cause: a serious tick-borne protozoan disease caused by Babesia species.
  • Four species of Babesia which infect cats have been identified: B. cati, B. felis  Babesia felis , B. herpailuri and B. pantherae.
  • Signs: lethargy, anorexia, anemia.
  • Cats appear to be able to adapt to the disease until anemia is severe.
  • The disease may go unnoticed and then present as a severely ill animal, or as a sudden death.
  • Information on many aspects of the disease in cats is lacking - where this is the case information about disease in the dog is included.

Presenting signs

  • Anemia, lethargy, anorexia and weakness.
  • Rough hair coat.
  • Dyspnea, tachycardia and tachypnea may be seen in very anemic cats.
  • Orange diarrhea may be seen.
  • Jaundice and fever are rarely seen (this is different to disease in dogs where jaundice and fever are common findings).

Acute presentation

  • Sudden onset with shock Shock and rapid death.
  • Cat may have been infected for some time but present suddenly with acute disease.

Geographic incidence

  • Disease in cats seen in Africa and South Asia.
  • Disease in the dog almost worldwide in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates - Africa, Asia, Southern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, Central and South America and parts of the USA.
  • The disease can occur in animals imported from endemic areas.

Age predisposition

  • Little available information about the prevalence of the infection in cat populations.
  • Occurrence of clinical disease is sporadic.
  • Clinical disease tends to occur mainly in young cats <2 years in endemic areas.
  • Adult cats imported into an area where the parasite occurs would be anticipated to be highly susceptible.

Special risks

  • Babesia species of dogs and cats are not considered of public health importance.



  • Four species of Babesia infect cats:B. cati, B. pantherae, B. felis and B. herpailuri.
  • B. cati has been identified in India.
  • The other species have been reported in Africa.
  • B. herpailuri has also been reported in cats in South America.
  • All species have been found in wild felidae as well as domestic cats.
  • These are different species to those found in dogs, where two species of Babesia are involved:
    • Babesia canis - occurs world wide in favorable climatic conditions for the survival of the tick vectors.
  • Three strains/subtypes now considered to exist:
    • Babesia canis canis, transmitted by Dermacentor reticulatus is the predominant type in Europe.
    • Babesia canis vogeli, transmitted by Rhipicephalus sanguineus, in Northern Africa and North America.
    • Babesia canis rossi, transmitted by Haemophysalis leachi, in Southern Africa.
  • ?Hyalomma marginatum and Dermacentor andersoni may also be involved in the transmission ofB. canis.
  • Babesia gibsoni, which causes a more chronic form of the disease, occurs in North America, North and East Africa and Asia including India, Japan and parts of China and is transmitted by Rhipicephalus sanguineus.
  • It is assumed that ticks are responsible for transmission of Babesia species in cats, but the species involved have not been identified.

Predisposing factors


  • Age and immune status of the cat.
  • Disease in older cats may be associated with other, concurrent infection.


  • Infestation with vector ticks.


  • Babesiosis is a tick-transmitted protozoal infection in which parasitized erythrocytes rupture and where, in dogs, the inflammatory response results in damage to vascular endothelium.
  • The clinical manifestations relate to the occurrence of hemolytic disease.
  • The following describes transmission to the dog, the situation in the cat is probably similar.
  • Ticks acquire the piroplasms when they ingest blood from an infected dog.
  • Babesia reproduce both sexually and asexually in the tick, and can be passed transovarially and transtadially.
  • Sporozoites, the infective stage, form in the salivary gland and are transmitted during feeding.
  • Parasitized erythrocytes rupture or are removed by phagocytosis, intravascular and extravascular hemolysis and erythrocyte phagocytosis.
  • The hemolytic crisis   →   regenerative anemia and hypoxia.
  • A carrier state occurs in recovered dogs. The same may apply to cats.


  • In dogs, ticks feed for up to 3 days before they transmit the infection.
  • Incubation period of 10-20 days following infection.
  • Cats adapt well to the disease so may only be noted to be ill in the late stages, so may die shortly after presentation.
  • Cats may become acutely ill 30 or more days post-infection
  • Once showing marked clinical signs associated with severe anemia will die within a few days if not treated appropriately.


  • It is assumed that ticks are responsible for transmission of Babesia in cats but the tick species have not been identified
  • A carrier state occurs in recovered dogs and the same may occur in cats - thus providing a reservoir of infection.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Hartmann K, Addie D, Belák S et al (2013) Babesiosis in Cats: ABCD guidelines on prevention and management. J Feline Med Surg 15 (7), 643-646 PubMed.
  • Schoeman T, Lobetti R G, Jacobson LS et al (2001) Feline babesiosis - signalment, clinical pathology and concurrent infections. J S Afr Vet Assoc 72 (1), 4-11 PubMed.
  • Jacobson L S, Schoeman T, Lobetti R G (2000) A survey of feline babesiosis in South Africa. J South African Vet Assoc 71 (4), 222-228 PubMed.
  • Penzhorn B L, Lewis B D, López-Rebollar L M et al (2000) Screening of five drugs for efficacy against Babesia felis in experimentally infected cats. J South African Vet Assoc 71 (1), 53-57 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Breitschwerdt E B (1990) Babesiosis. In: Infectious diseases of the dog and cat. Ed: Craig E Greene. WB Saunders (overview of disease in the cat and dog, including causative organisms, diagnosis and treatment).
  • Futter G J (1980 and 1981) History of feline babesiosis, clinical observations, hematological findings and chemical pathology. In: J South African Vet Assoc Individual references in order are:50, 105-106;51, 143-146;51, 271-280;52, 5-14.