Sporotrichosis in Cats
Sporothrix schenckii is a fungus that has the potential to infect the skin, respiratory system, bones and sometimes the brain, causing a diseased state called sporotrichosis. Infection is caused by the virtually ubiquitous dimorphic (mold and yeast) fungus, S. schenckii, which typically infects via direct inoculation - that is, through abrasions of the skin or by inhalation. The origin of the fungus is environmental; it is naturally found in soil, plants and sphagnum moss, but it can be communicated zoonotically between different animal species, and between animals and humans.
Cats tend to experience a severe form of cutaneous sporotrichosis, making them an even greater risk for transmitting the infection to other animals and people. In cats, intact male cats that roam outdoors and fight are predisposed to puncture wounds, which then offer an advantageous route for S. schenckii to enter the body. The infection may also be spread by other cats, often through scratches to the skin.
Symptoms and Types
- Bumps, or lesions on the skin surface, swollen lymph glands
- Lesions often appear initially as wounds or abscesses mimicking wounds
- Associated with fighting, wounds may be found on the head, lumbar region, or distal limbs
- Previous trauma or puncture wound in the affected area is a variable finding
- Poor response to previous antibacterial therapy
- Combination of cutaneous and lymph form—usually an extension of the cutaneous form, which spreads via the lymphs, resulting in the formation of new nodules and draining tracts or crusts.
- Lymphadenopathy (disease of the lymphs) is common
- Rare, occurs when the initial infection spreads into the body to a secondary location
- Systemic signs of malaise and fever
- Osteoarticular sporotrichosis occurs when the infection spreads into the bones and joints
- Sporotrichosis meningitis occurs when the infection spreads into the nervous system and brain
- Symptoms include loss of appetite (anorexia), and weight loss (cachexia)
- Occurs as a result of inhalation of Sporothrix schenckii spores
- Infected animal is more at risk of developing pneumonia
- Animals exposed to soil rich in decaying organic debris appear to be predisposed
- Cat scratches provide an increased opportunity for infection
- Exposure to infected animals or clinically healthy cats sharing a household with an affected cat are at risk
- Immunosuppressive disease should be considered a risk factor
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your cat, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have led to this condition. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis.
It is important to note that this is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it is communicable to humans and other animals, and proper precautions will need to be taken to prevent the spread of infection. Even if you do not have a break in your skin, you are not protected against acquiring the disease.
An examination of the fluid from the lesions is often necessary to confirm an infection. A negative finding does not always rule out the disease. Laboratory cultures of the deeply affected tissue often require surgery to obtain an adequate sample. These samples will be sent for analysis, along with a special note to the laboratory listing sporotrichosis as a differential diagnosis. Secondary bacterial infections are common.
Because of its potential for infection in humans, your cat may be hospitalized for the initial treatment. In many situations, outpatient therapy may be a consideration. Several antifungal drugs are available for treatment of this infection. Your veterinarian will choose the type that is best suited to your cat. The treatment generally takes some time; at least several weeks after the initial treatment before the patient is considered recovered. While your cat is being treated, you will need to protect yourself from infection. Gloves and face masks are suggested, but your veterinarian will instruct you on the best methods for minimizing risk of transmission.
Although difficult to prevent because of its prevalence in the environment, it is helpful to determine the source of the Sporothrix schenckii, so that you can take steps to prevent repeat infections.
Living and Management
Your veterinarian will set up a schedule of follow-up appointments at around every 2–4 weeks in order to re-evaluate your cat's condition. Clinical signs will be monitored and liver enzymes will be assessed. Side effects associated with treatment will be evaluated, and treatment will be modified according to your cat's reactions. If your cat does not respond to therapy, your veterinarian will make changes in the medication.
Image: Stokkete via Shutterstock