It is summertime, and summer in Arkansas means tick season. Arkansas is home to at least five tick species, and all can cause Tickborne Diseases (TBD). TBD can be dangerous to humans and animals alike, and there’s one specific disease we have to be very aware of for our big cats.
Our exotic big cats are particularly susceptible to Bobcat Fever. The Lone Star Tick carries Bobcat Fever, also known for causing severe red meat allergies in humans. It is one of the most abundant ticks in Arkansas. Females are easily identified by the white spot on their back. White-tailed deer are a host of Lone Star Ticks. This means that ticks will feed on white-tailed deer during their adult life stage.
However, Lone Star Ticks aren’t the only ones feeding on white-tailed deer. Bobcats can take down an adult deer by themselves. As a result, many bobcats will become exposed to Lone Star Ticks. Bobcats are another host of Lone Star ticks, and because of this, bobcats do not suffer from TBD associated with the Lone Star Tick.
Subsequently, Bobcat Fever often affects outdoor house cats. A cat with Bobcat Fever exhibits symptoms around 15 days after being bit. Infected cats become lethargic and develop decreased appetite. They have high fevers and may show signs of anemia and jaundice. Blood clots will block blood flow to vital organs and damage to the liver and kidneys can occur. As a result, many cats will die within days after exhibiting symptoms. Treatment for Bobcat Fever is intense but does improve the mortality rate from about 100% to 60%-40%. However, cats that receive treatment become carriers of the disease.
In addition, Bobcat Fever affects exotic big cats. In 1996, a white tiger living in captivity in Florida started demonstrating lethargy and wasn’t eating. After sedating her, two Lone Star Ticks were found and removed from her body. A medical exam showed that she was dehydrated and had a high fever. Her condition only worsened; she entered a coma and died. A necropsy showed many health issues, including jaundice, bleeding into the skin, hemorrhages, and an enlarged spleen.
TCWR has not seen many tick-related issues regarding our big cats. We did have a tiger, Diesel, who came to us suffering from a tick-borne illness. Diesel was surrendered to us by his previous owner. When he arrived at the refuge, he was very ill and, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything that our vet could do for him. Quality of life is a very important aspect to consider for our big cats here. Above all, protecting them in every way we can is TCWR’s ultimate goal.
So how do we protect our cats from Bobcat Fever? Our animal care team tick sprays every habitat every couple of weeks starting early May. We will also tick spray the surrounding perimeters and even the wooded areas just beyond our roads. Tick sprays contain chemicals that kill ticks and other insects. The tick spray TCWR uses is not absorbed into the plant system. It sits on top of the plant and kills insects on contact or consumption. Once our grass is dry, we can safely give our cats access to the newly sprayed habitat. We will tick spray our habitats consistently from around May to September. It is just one of many ways that we keep our cats safe and healthy.