Aspergillosis is a disease caused by a fungi of the genus Aspergillus. The most common types to affect cats are Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus terreus.
The fungus is found on dead leaves, compost heaps, soil and the in the air. In cats, it typically affects the nasal cavity, respiratory system or digestive tract. In some cases, the spores can trigger an allergic reaction in the cat.
Cats become infected when they inhale the spores of the fungus. Most cats (and people) will be exposed to the fungus without ill effects. The disease is opportunistic, mostly affecting immunodeficient animals. Cats with feline panleukopenia are especially vulnerable to developing an infection due to their weakened immune systems.
Thankfully the disease is relatively rare in cats.
Symptoms of aspergillosis in cats:
In most cases, infection is localised in the nose, however, some cases will move to the lungs. The most serious consequences are when the fungus spreads beyond the lungs and affects other organs of the body. This is known as disseminated aspergillosis.
Common symptoms of aspergillosis include:
Nasal discharge - Maybe clear, thick or bloody. One or both nostrils may be affected
Ulcerations on the exterior of the nose
Watery eyes (epiphora)
Pain around the nose
Symptoms can vary depending on where in the body the fungus becomes established but may include:
Diagnosis of aspergillosis in cats:
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you.
Aspergillus is found in the nasal passages of healthy cats so the presence of the fungus does not necessarily mean your cat is suffering from aspergillosis.
Diagnostic tests may include:
Rhinoscopy - A thin tube with a camera and light at the end is inserted into the nasal cavity to examine the inside of the nose for fungal plaques.
X-rays or CT scan of the nasal passages and sinuses which may reveal destruction of the bones.
Biopsy of tissue can be used to diagnose aspergillosis.
Serology - Blood tests to check for the presence of antibodies in the blood serum.
Urinalysis - If disseminated aspergillosis is suspected, urinalysis may reveal fungal organisms in the urine.
Treatment of aspergillosis in cats:
Treatment is variable and depends on the immune competence of the cat and the location of the infection. It may include:
Systemic antifungal drugs such as itraconazole or fluconazole.
Topical antifungal drugs. This involves giving your cat an anesthetic and inserting an antifungal medication into the nasal cavity through tubes.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the infection.
Cats may also run a concurrent bacterial infection which may require antibiotics.
Sadly, the prognosis for cats with disseminated aspergillosis is guarded.