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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Q Fever in Cats

By Otto M. Radostits, CM, DVM, MSc, DACVIM (Deceased), Professor Emeritus, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan ; Max J. Appel, DMV, PhD, Professor Emeritus ; David A. Ashford, DVM, MPH, DSc, Assistant Area Director, International Services, APHIS, USDA ; Stephen C. Barr, BVSc, MVS, PhD, DACVIM, Professor of Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University ; J. P. Dubey, MVSc, PhD, Microbiologist, Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA ; Paul Ettestad, DVM, MS, State Public Health Veterinarian, Epidemiology and Response Division, New Mexico Department of Health ; Craig E. Greene, DVM, MS, Professor, Department of Small Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia ; Delores E. Hill, PhD, Parasitologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture ; Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD, Small Animal Consultant ; Eugene D. Janzen, DVM, MVS, Professor, Production Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary ; Jodie Low Choy, BVSc, BVMS, IVAS Cert, Menzies School of Health Research; University Avenue Veterinary Hospital, Northern Territory, Australia ; Dennis W. Macy, MS, DACVIM, Professor of Medicine and Oncology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences,Colorado State University ; Dudley L. McCaw, DVM, DACVIM (Small Animal, Oncology), Professor, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University ; Barton W. Rohrbach, VMD, MPH, DACVPM, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Medicine, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, University of Tennessee ; J. Glenn Songer, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology, University of Arizona ; Richard A. Squires, BVSc (Hons), PhD, DVR, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, GCertEd, MRCVS, Head of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, James Cook University ; Bert E. Stromberg, PhD, Professor, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota ; Joseph Taboada, DVM, DACVIM, Professor and Associate Dean, Office of Student and Academic Affairs, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University ; Charles O. Thoen, DVM, PhD, Professor, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University ; John F. Timoney, MVB, PhD, Dsc, MRCVS, Keeneland Chair of Infectious Diseases, Gluck Equine Research Center, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Kentucky ; Ian Tizard, BVMS, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Immunology; Director, Richard M. Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

Also see professional content regarding coxiellosis.

Q fever is a bacterial infection (caused by Coxiella burnetii) that rarely causes noticeable illness in animals; it can be passed from animals to people. Transmission to people usually occurs by direct or indirect contact with the bacteria that are shed in large numbers in the placenta and birth fluids of ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and goats. Other domestic animals, including cats, can also play a role in the spread of infection to humans.

There are 2 major patterns of transmission. In one, the organism circulates between wild animals and their skin parasites, mainly ticks. The other transmission pattern occurs in domestic animals (mainly ruminants). People can become infected by direct contact with the bacteria in birth fluids or materials such as soil or bedding that were contaminated during the delivery. The organism is also found in milk, urine, and feces of infected animals. Transmission may occur by aerosolization of the bacteria attached to dust particles that are inhaled into the lungs or by ingestion of contaminated milk.

The Q fever bacteria usually do not cause signs of illness in infected animals. They have occasionally been implicated in abortion. Infected animals that contract the illness may show vague signs, such as fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite lasting several days.

Infected animals can be treated with antibiotics, but complete elimination of the organism has not been reported. Vaccines for people and animals have been developed but are not commercially available in the United States. Q fever in humans must be reported to public health officials; cases of Q fever in animals need not be reported unless humans are involved.