It’s summertime and Lake area dogs and cats are heading outside for some fun in the sun. But for cat owners, it’s also the season to watch out for Bobcat Fever, a deadly, tick-borne disease that’s been running rampant at Lake of the Ozarks.  

For Lake area pet owner Amy Jo Dennis, warnings about Bobcat Fever came too late when her cat Gary was infected.

Gary died of Bobcat Fever, and the cat's owner was heartbroken.

“I knew Gary was a special cat,” she said, adding, “He would still let you hold him like a baby.”

Gary Cat

Initially, Amy Jo didn’t know Gary was infected, and when the feline started acting strangely and not eating, she thought Gary was just having a reaction to a recent change in cat food. But then she picked up her cat and could feel that Gary had dramatically lost weight, going from 20 pounds down to just 8. 

“He’d only been acting different for two days. He had all this fur and we just thought he’d gotten hot and was relaxing under the bed,” said Amy Jo. “But when we picked him up we knew there was something wrong with him.”

The disease is almost universally fatal and often extraordinarily painful. Symptoms include lethargy, high fever, not eating, and crying in pain. Cats generally die after three to five days although Gary succumbed after only two. 

“We’ve still been crying. The whole vet's office cried when we took him in, even the vet. Everyone that was in there, even other customers that were in there. Everyone was crying, it was horrible,” Amy Jo.

Bobcat Fever is actually a tick-borne parasite found in its namesake bobcats, which are unaffected by it, but when the parasite infects house cats it attaches to the cat's red blood cells and overwhelms their system.

“A house cat can’t handle the parasite like a bobcat can," said Melissa Lawhead, a veterinary tech at Lake Dog And Cat Veterinary Hospital, adding, "90 to 95% of the time I’ve seen it's lethal... By day four or five, their temperature drops and their body shuts down, painfully.”

The disease has been seen at Lake of the Ozarks for many years, but some areas see more of the disease than others. 

“We’ve had three in the last couple of weeks, one in Laurie, one in Hurricane Deck and one in Proctor. We’ve had some in Climax Springs, that’s always been a hotspot and in Macks Creek, that’s always been a hot spot,” Lawhead said. “I think it’s particularly bad this year because the ticks are so bad and the bobcats are on the move.”

According to Lawhead, the best defense against Bobcat Fever is a veterinarian-grade flea and tick prevention that can kill ticks within two hours of contact such as Bravecto. Frontline and other over-the-counter brands are often less powerful than what you can get at the vet and can increase a cat's likelihood of contracting the disease. 

If you suspect your cat has Bobcat Fever, take them to the vet immediately to get checked for the parasite. There’s an intensive treatment in Springfield that has a 30% to 60% success rate, but otherwise the only response to Bobcat Fever is humane euthanasia to stop the suffering caused by the disease. 

“Once they have the parasite, there’s no going back,” Lawhead said. “I’ve seen people not do it [euthanasia] and it’s the worst death to watch in the whole world.”

Dennis is still mourning Gary’s death but hopes that helping spread awareness of the disease will help their grief.

"I told my boyfriend when he started crying last night. I was like 'Look, I know we lost Gary but Gary is going to save a lot of other cats by making it known about this disease, because nobody knows about it.'"


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