Feline vector-borne diseases (FVBD) have emerged in recent years, showing a wider geographic distribution and increased global prevalence. In addition to their veterinary importance, domestic cats play a central role in the transmission cycles of some FVBD agents by acting as reservoirs and sentinels, a circumstance that requires a One Health approach. The aim of the present work was to molecularly detect feline vector-borne bacteria and protozoa with veterinary and zoonotic importance, and to assess associated risk factors in cats from southern Portugal.
Six hundred and forty-nine cats (320 domestic and 329 stray), from veterinary medical centres and animal shelters in southern Portugal, were studied. Anaplasma spp./Ehrlichia spp., Babesia spp., Bartonella spp., Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, Hepatozoon spp. and Leishmania spp. infections were evaluated by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in blood samples.
One hundred and ninety-four (29.9%) cats were PCR-positive to at least one of the tested genera or complex of FVBD agents. Sixty-four (9.9%) cats were positive to Leishmania spp., 56 (8.6%) to Hepatozoon spp., 43 (6.6%) to Babesia spp., 35 (5.4%) to Anaplasma spp./Ehrlichia spp., 19 (2.9%) to Bartonella spp. and 14 (2.2%) to B. burgdorferi s.l. Thirty-three (5.1%) cats were positive to two (n = 29) or three (n = 4) genera/complex. Babesia vogeli, Bartonella clarridgeiae, Bartonella henselae, Ehrlichia canis, Hepatozoon felis and Leishmania infantum were identified by DNA sequencing.
The occurrence of FVBD agents in southern Portugal, some of them with zoonotic character, emphasizes the need to alert the veterinary community, owners and public health authorities for the risk of infection. Control measures should be implemented to prevent the infection of cats, other vertebrate hosts and people.