Cryptosporidium in Cats

Cryptosporidium is a protozoa that causes a condition known as cryptosporidium in cats. Cryptosporidium is characterized by diarrhea and gastroenteritis. It can occur by itself, or as a secondary infection in cats who have lowered immune function. Read on to learn more about the symptoms and treatment of this feline infection.

How Cats Get Cryptosporidiosis

Cryptosporidium is a protozoan organism that lives in your cat's digestive tract. Inside the digestive tract, the protozoa infect intestinal cells and reproduce within them, usually destroying the healthy cells in the process. The protozoa spreads by encysting itself, or covering itself in a protective layer, before being passed out of the digestive tract in your cat's feces. Other animals can ingest these cysts and become infected.

Unfortunately, cryptosporidium protozoa can form two kinds of cysts. One kind, the thick-walled cyst, passes out of the body in the stool and can cause infection in other animals. A second, thin-walled type of cyst can remain in your cat's body and cause infection to recur. This can make treating the infection very difficult.

Symptoms of Cryptosporidiosis in Cats

Cats who have been infected with cryptosporidium often lose weight and experience lowered appetite. Diarrhea also occurs. 

Cryptosporidiosis occurs most often in young cats. Cats who are subjected to unhygienic or crowded conditions are more likely to be exposed and infected. Cats with lowered immune function are most likely to succumb to infection and often display more severe symptoms than healthy cats.

Diagnosing and Treating Cryptosporidiosis in Cats

Your vet can diagnose cryptosporidium infection in your cat with a fecal exam, blood tests or biopsies. Cryptosporidium is a very small organism, so fecal exams alone often don't detect its presence within the cat's digestive tract. Other tests may be necessary, but these tests are very effective.

Treating cryptosporidiosis in cats can be difficult, because infection can easily recur. Antibiotics, such as clindamycin and tylosin, can be used to treat the infection. Supportive fluid therapy can help counteract the dehydration that often occurs with most cases of diarrhea. Switching your cat to a high fiber diet can help relieve diarrhea while he recovers from cryptosporidiosis.

Cats who are otherwise healthy usually develop only mild symptoms and recover without incident. Some cats may even recover from cryptosporidiosis without medication, though you should consult your vet about treatment options anyway. Even if your cat doesn't need medication, he could still need supportive therapy to counteract the dehydration caused by diarrhea.

Cryptosporidium in cats can be spread to humans, though most human cases of cryptosporidiosis occur due to another species of cryptosporidium that primarily infects humans. Disinfect your cat's living area with a ten percent solution of water and bleach. Keep litter boxes clean to keep the parasite from reinfecting your cat, or spreading to other household members. 

If a member of your household is suffering from lowered immune function, you should know that exposure to cryptosporidium can be life-threatening for that person. They should be tested for cryptosporidium infection, and you will need to take special care to eradicate the protozoa from your home. You may even need to re-home your cat.