Feline mycoplasma, also called feline infectious anemia or feline hemotropic mycoplasmosis, is a cat disease caused by an infection from a species of bacterial parasite called Mycoplasma haemofelis. This disease can cause death if not diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian.
Mycoplasma haemofelis is a species of a unique group of bacteria called Mycoplasmas. A cat can become infected with mycoplasma from an infected flea, tick or mosquito bite. These bacteria, like parasites, need to attach to a host to survive; inside the cat, the mycoplasma bacteria attach themselves to the cat’s red blood cells. The body’s immune system sees the foreign bacteria on the cells and creates antibodies to attack them. The infected red blood cells are now coated with antibodies, triggering the spleen to remove and destroy the infected cells. The removal of too many red blood cells causes the cat to become anemic.
A cat that is infected with Mycoplasma haemofelis may not show symptoms for a few weeks, until the bacteria have infected a large number of red blood cells. The cat may have a fever, depression, reduced appetite, pale or jaundiced color, tiredness, weakness and possibly weight loss. The spleen and lymph nodes may also be enlarged.
If your cat shows symptoms of mycoplasma infection, it is crucial to get it to a veterinarian who can diagnose the disease. There are two main methods of diagnosis, the first is observation of a blood smear under a microscope to actually visualize the organisms on the red blood cells. This can be unreliable, however, because the infection is not in all cells at all times: It comes in waves or cycles and is easy to miss in just a small sample of red blood cells from one point in time. The main method of diagnosis is called polymerase chain reaction which is a method that can detect and isolate a small amount of DNA from the bacterial organism itself and differentiate it from any other type of bacteria that may be present in the blood.
Once a veterinarian has diagnosed feline infectious anemia he will prescribe an antibiotic, usually tetracycline or doxycycline, to kill the bacteria. In addition to antibiotics, the veterinarian will also prescribe a steroid like prednisone to suppress the cat’s immune system from attacking and removing the red blood cells. Seriously anemic cats may need a blood transfusion. With treatment, infected felines respond well, and their progress will be monitored over time. To help prevent infection from Mycoplasma haemofelis, it is a good idea to maintain proper flea and tick control for your feline.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Sarah Quinlan has experience writing for various websites on science, biology, veterinary science, health and medicine. For over seven years she has worked as a scientist in various biological fields where she has written and contributed to multiple manuscripts that have been published in scientific journals. Quinlan holds a bachelor's degree in zoology and a master's degree in forensic biology/chemistry.