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Bartonella Infection in Dogs

What Is Bartonella Infection in Dogs?

Bartonella infection, also known as cat scratch fever, is a bacterial disease that can affect both dogs and cats, entering their bloodstream. It is transmitted through various vectors such as fleas, ticks, lice, and sand flies. Bartonellosis can lead to fever and inflammation in multiple organs, including the heart. The bacteria spread through these parasites and insects.

The prevalence of Bartonella infection is higher in the Southern regions of the United States compared to other areas. Globally, cats are more commonly infected with the bacteria than dogs. However, dogs engaged in hunting and herding activities, as well as those living outdoors or in rural environments, are at a higher risk of exposure to the parasites carrying Bartonella.


Symptoms of Bartonella infection in dogs include:

  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Muscle soreness; reluctance to engage in activities like running or jumping
  • Irritation of the nose, presenting with discharge and/or nosebleeds
  • Digestive disturbances such as vomiting or diarrhea
  • Inflammation of the heart, characterized by coughing, difficulty breathing, or fainting


The causes of Bartonella infection in dogs stem from bites by fleas, ticks, sand flies, and lice. These vectors transmit the infection to their hosts. Subsequently, the infected host can transmit the disease to humans through scratching or biting, making it a zoonotic ailment. In humans, this infection is commonly referred to as cat scratch fever, although it is not exclusively transmitted by cats scratching humans. While it is less frequent for humans to contract Bartonella from dogs, transmission can occur through a dog bite.

Six species of Bartonella are known to infect dogs: B. henselae, B. vinsonii, B. clarridgeiae, B. elizabethae, B. washoensis, and B. quintana. Among them, B. henselae, the strain responsible for cat scratch fever, is the most prevalent.


Veterinarians diagnose Bartonella infection in dogs through a series of diagnostic procedures. Upon conducting a thorough physical examination, they may recommend a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry profile, and urinalysis to assess signs of infection, inflammation, and any impact on the body’s organs.

Blood testing serves as the primary method to diagnose bartonellosis in dogs. These tests are typically sent to veterinary diagnostic laboratories. Immunofluorescence antibodies (IFA) testing proves valuable in detecting exposure to Bartonella. Additionally, cultures can be conducted on blood and affected tissues, such as lymph nodes or heart valves in cases of endocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart.

For diagnosing endocarditis, an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart, is the preferred method. Preliminary tests, including blood testing for general infection, an electrocardiogram (EKG), and chest X-rays, may be conducted by the primary veterinarian before referral for an echocardiogram, if necessary.


The positive aspect is that bartonellosis is treatable with antibiotics. A treatment regimen lasting 4 to 6 weeks, utilizing antibiotics like doxycycline, amoxicillin, or enrofloxacin, has demonstrated effectiveness against the infection. Due to the extended duration of antibiotic therapy and the aim to mitigate antibiotic resistance, treatment is primarily advised for symptomatic animals.

Living and Management

Bartonella infection in dogs typically involve the resolution of symptoms within 2-4 weeks of treatment. While mild swelling of the glands and generalized fatigue may persist for months, such occurrences are rare.


Preventing Bartonella infection in dogs relies on proactive measures since there are no available vaccines for this condition. Utilizing effective flea and tick prevention methods, as advised by your veterinarian, plays a crucial role in disease prevention. It’s essential to keep a close eye on your dog, especially in areas where these parasites are prevalent, and promptly remove any visible fleas or ticks as a preventive measure.

Individuals who are immunocompromised should exercise caution to avoid rough play or being bitten by dogs that may be at risk of Bartonella infection. Puppies, due to their tendency to nip and bite, can potentially transmit the infection, particularly to those with compromised immune systems. While there’s no documented evidence of humans being directly infected via ticks or fleas, it’s important to remain vigilant and take necessary precautions.

Bartonella Infection in Dogs FAQs

Is a Bartonella infection fatal for dogs?

Bartonellosis is seldom fatal in dogs. The most severe cases involve significant inflammation of the heart.

Can Bartonella infection in dogs be cured?

While it cannot be entirely cured, it can be managed to subclinical levels. It’s advisable to treat infected dogs with antibiotics, particularly if they reside in households with immunocompromised individuals. The likelihood of bacterial transmission from subclinical carriers of Bartonella is not fully understood, but there is presumed to be a lower risk to humans if the dog remains subclinical.

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