Origins of the Disease

...the parasite inhabits their intestinal tract, where it then causes feline trichomoniasis.

The flagellated protozoan is a single celled organism that is known to be transmitted between cattle through sexual activity and usually infects the reproductive tract of the animal. As a flagellated protozoan, the bacterium is a single celled eukaryotic organism that moves via whip-like organelles that extend from the cell body; eukaryotic organisms are more-complex single celled organisms that contain a nucleus and other organelles in a membrane.

When in bovines, the organism generally infects the reproductive tract and can cause spontaneous abortions that can cost cattle breeders millions of dollars in revenue each year. In cats, however, the parasite inhabits their intestinal tract, where it then causes feline trichomoniasis. Feline trichomoniasis can cause chronic diarrhea, tenesmus, flatulence, and fecal incontinence.

According to Heather Walden, Ph. D at Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine, the disease was discovered whilst putting the feline isolate in cows and the bovine isolate in cats and then comparing the differences in its effect during experimental trials. These studies were analyzed alongside molecular analyses of genetic sequences in cats and cattle to determine key differences in the disease-causing capacity of the bacterium between cows and cats.

Search For A Solution

...even in cats that remain untreated, 88% of cats will have their symptoms cease after 2 years.

Walden, who discovered the disease, christened it Tritrichomonas blagburni in honor of her mentor from Auburn University, Professor Byron Blagburn, Ph. D. The identification of this species in cats is significant in that it can lead to preventative measures to reduce or eradicate its presence in cats. Professor Dwight Bowman, Ph. D at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, stated that the research "removes [cats] as the reservoir source for infections of cattle on farms."

Though the discovery of tritrichomonas blagburni is a large leap forward towards preventing trichomoniasis in cats, it's still a problem that will plague cats through the more common trichomonas foetus that has been previously thought to be the only cause of trichomoniasis. Trichomonas foetus, like tritrichomonas blagburni, is a single celled flagellated protozoan that affects cows and cats alike.

There is no known treatment of the parasite that completely eradicates it in naturally infected felines aside from treatments to reduce its effects with antiprotozoal agents such as ronidazole or metronidazole. These treatments can be extremely effective; but, even in cats that remain untreated, 88% of cats will have their symptoms cease after 2 years.

What to Watch For

Tritrichomonas foetus mostly affects cats in the first year of their life and more often than not in shelters or where multiple cats share living conditions. T. foetus is more likely to infect through contaminated water than in cat food or exposure to contaminated cat litter. It is possible, though extremely unlikely that this parasite can affect humans, as three reported incidents of human infection have occurred.

Tritrichomonas foetus is often misdiagnosed to be Giardia, which is another protozoan that is treated using a method that is ineffective when used to combat T. foetus. The added discovery tritrichomonas blagburni will complicate diagnosis and treatment even further. If your cat exhibits the symptoms of trichomoniasis, which occasionally include bloody discharge after a softened stool, inform your veterinarian and ensure that they are testing stool samples for all three protozoans.