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Bartonella Infection in Dogs

Bartonella May Affect Dogs and Be Transmitted to Humans

Bartonellosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria in dogs. The bacteria that causes the disease, bartonella, can infect humans and cats, too. In humans, the infection has been known as cat scratch disease, though the infection is rarely transmitted either through cat bites or scratches.

Dogs get bartonella bacteria through contact with lice, ticks, fleas, and even sand fleas. Hunting dogs and working dogs who encounter livestock and/or wild animals are at greater risk for contracting bartonella than dogs who spend the majority of their time indoors or in the city.

Symptoms of Bartonella Infection in Dogs and Humans

Bartonella infection is a zoonotic disease and can be transmitted between dogs, cats, and human beings. Interestingly, the symptoms of bartonella infection, or bartonellosis, are very similar in humans and dogs and include:

  • A red bump at the site of insect bite or scratch
  • Nausea
  • Altered brain function and seizures
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Swollen or painful lymph nodes, especially near the site of infection
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills or visible shivering
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea
  • Inflammation of the eye or pink eye

Dogs can present other symptoms once examined by your veterinarian, including:

  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Lameness
  • Inflammation of the heart
  • Arthritis
  • Inflammation of the brain

Most cats who are infected, however, are typically asymptomatic.

Diagnosis of Bartonella Infection and Bartonellosis

In humans, the disease typically is caused by a dog bite from an infected dog. If the symptoms above present following a dog bite, then be sure to see your veterinarian right away.

Diagnosis in dogs is done through a complete physical examination by a veterinarian, which may typically be followed with a urinalysis and a blood chemistry profile, and then tests to determine the presence of the bacteria. Many signs can present themselves either through the physical itself, or through the blood or liver screens that point toward bartonella infection as the cause of symptoms.

Treatment of Bartonellosis and Bartonella Infection

Treatment for humans affected by bartonella infection involves a thorough cleaning of the site of infection, whether scratch or bite, and a course of antibiotics. Likewise, bartonellosis in dogs can be treated through a course of antibiotics specifically designed to wipe out the bacteria such as doxycycline or azithromycin possibly with rifampin, clarithromycin, or a newer fluoroquinolone antibiotic.

Dogs who are at risk of infection should be placed on an ongoing flea and tick preventive regimen of medication.

Protecting Your Pets, Yourself, and Others from Bartonella

Bartonella is a common bacterium that your dog(s) can be exposed to regularly. Protection from bartonella infection typically involved adhering to a flea and tick prevention program that involves regular medication, as well as screening for parasites directly on the animal.

Every flea or tick you find on your pet doesn't require a trip to your veterinarian, provided that your pet is on a preventive regimen of anti-flea and tick medication, is in good health, and is not showing any of the symptoms listed above.

About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.