Thursday, September 28, 2017

Health Spotlight: Mycoplasma felis

Health Spotlight: Mycoplasma felis

A friend posted recently that her beloved kitty had been diagnosed with this, and wondered what it meant. Naturally, I had to research it! Here's what I found:

What is Mycoplasma felis?

Mycoplasma are microscopic bacterial plant life (flora) that live everywhere in nature. This includes in humans, plants, insects, and in your cat's nasal and respiratory passages. They are thought to be the smallest organisms that can grow independently. A few can worsen infections in a cat's eyes or lower respiratory tracts. Others are suspected culprits in arthritis or urinogenitary tract infections.

These bacteria are anaerobic; that is to say, they do not require oxygen to live, grow, and reproduce. They can easily change shape because they do not have a typical cell wall. This makes them able to easily travel to various areas of the body.

Mycoplasma felis, or M. felis, is only one type of these bacteria. Others are M. gataea and M. feliminutum. There is another type of bacteria called M. hemofelis, which is a very different pathogen of the blood that affects your cat's ability to produce white blood cells. It is not the same as M. felis.

What Causes Mycoplasma felis?

Since it is a type of bacteria found everywhere, a more accurate question would be: What does Mycoplasma felis cause? M. felis is one of many possible bacteria that can worsen feline conditions such as:

  • Conjunctivitis (pinkeye)
  • Pneumonia
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Urinary or genital tract infections
  • Polyarthritis

Your veterinarian will need to determine exactly what is causing your cat's illness in the instances mentioned above. One of the possible contributing factors is M. felis. Main causes of these conditions can include common allergies, acholeplasma, ureaplasma, chlamydia, feline herpesvirus (FHV or FHV-1), various fungi, feline calicivirus (FCV), or other viruses.

Once properly identified as a culprit, M. felis can be more effectively treated with antibiotics that target it. A name commonly given to infections caused by all the mycoplasma bacteria is mycoplasmosis. Mycoplasma tends to worsen or prolong infections caused by other agents; this is more often the case than for it to be the primary cause of the infection. It rarely acts alone in causing disease.

What are the Symptoms of Mycoplasma felis?

Symptoms would come from the conditions being caused by the M. felis. Your cat would not likely have all of these symptoms, only the ones specific to the disease in the area of the body infected. They could include:

  • Severely swollen eyes
  • Eye and/or nasal discharge
  • Frequent sneezing
  • Lameness
  • Difficulty walking or grooming
  • Difficulty stepping up into the litter box (may cause litterbox avoidance)
  • Fever
  • Squinting
  • Spasmodic blinking
  • Long-term skin abscesses
  • Weakened newborns of infected mothers
  • Stillbirths or early kitten deaths
Cats afflicted by immune deficiencies such as feline leukemia (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency (FIV) viruses may be more susceptible to infection from mycoplasma bacteria. Often, a cat presenting the above symptoms may be tested for both of these as a precaution.


How is Mycoplasma felis treated?

Your veterinarian will take a sample of your cat's eye fluid or swab the throat, or may extract a bit of joint fluid, depending on the type of infection. The vet will also check for inflammation. The sample is sent off to a lab, where they will test it for the presence of M. felis. If it is present in the sample, your cat will be given an antibiotic. This test will likely run you a couple hundred dollars, but is the only way of knowing for sure if M. felis is contributing to your cat's illness.

Typical broad-spectrum antibiotics used to combat diseases caused or exacerbated by M. felis as of this writing include:

  • amoxicillin with clavulanic acid
  • cephalosporins
  • trimethoprim-sulfa
  • fluoroquinolones
  • tetracyclines
  • chloramphenicol
The two most effective against M. felis are thought to be the tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones. The specific drugs doxycycline and pradofloxacin were found to be effective against M. felis in a 2008 German study. Doxycycline was slightly more effective at eliminating M. felis completely, although both relieved the cats' symptoms within the first week of treatment. A 2016 study funded by the Winn Feline Foundation reported that minocycline and azithromycin are also quite effective against M. felis.

If your kitty's eyes are affected, your vet may prescribe an antibiotic ophthalmic ointment or drops in addition to the medicine given by mouth. If swelling or pain are being caused by the infection, your vet may give a non-steroid anti-inflammatory (NSAID), which may also be included in the ophthalmic ointment/drops. 


Luckily, most cats have a good prognosis when infected by mycoplasma. Young kittens or geriatric cats may have more difficulty overcoming it. Milder cases can last from five to ten days, while more severe ones may stretch out for up to six weeks. Normally antibiotic treatment will continue for at least three weeks. By the time most people have their cats tested for M. felis, the longer recovery time is typical.

Home treatment of these infections is typical, once properly diagnosed. Your cat should not need hospitalization. You may want to make your kitty more comfortable by dabbing the eye and nose secretions periodically with a tissue. If your cat is reluctant to eat, it could be that the sense of smell is compromised, so try an especially aromatic food. This is the time to spoil your cat with his favorite! Make sure kitty is drinking plenty of fluids, to help thin and clear the nasal and eye secretions.

The length of treatment will be determined by your vet, depending on your cat's condition. You will usually need to be giving antibiotics for a fairly long time. Supplements to boost your cat's immune system may help with recovery, as well as helping your kitty stave off a reinfection.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Mycoplasma felis?

Because these bacteria are everywhere, there is no vaccine to prevent infection. Sunlight and chemical disinfectants kill these bacteria. The best prevention is to keep your cat's environment as clean as possible.

In multi-cat households, if one of your cats tests positive for M. felis, that bacterium will be present in the cat's nasal discharge for the rest of its life. But, as discussed above, it exists virtually everywhere else in nature anyway, so this should not present any more of a danger to your other cats than merely living in the world.

If your cat is suffering from repeated upper respiratory or eye infections, ask your vet about having the test done for Mycoplasma felis. Getting the proper treatment could actually save you money in the long run, and will certainly make your kitty feel better!

Sources: "Bacterial Infection (Mycoplasma, Ureaplasma, Acoleplasma) in Cats", Pet M.D.; "Mycoplasma felis" Zoologix (test description); Ned F. Kuehn, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Section Chief, Internal Medicine, Michigan Veterinary Specialists, "Feline Respiratory Disease Complex" Merck Veterinary Manual; "Mycoplasma felis", The Cat Site; Dr. Marie, "mycoplasma felis respiratory infection", AskAVetAQuestion.com; AD Hartmann, CR Helps, MR Lappin, C Werckenthin, and K Hartmann, "Efficacy of pradofloxacin in cats with feline upper respiratory tract disease due to Chlamydophila felis or Mycoplasma infections", U.S. National Library of Medicine; Susan Little, DVM, DABVP (Feline) and Matthew Kornya, DVM, "Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats", Winn Feline Foundation.

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