Intraerythrocytic piroplasms, morphologically indistinguishable from Cytauxzoon felis, were identified in stained blood films from more than one third of free-ranging cougars (Puma concolor couguar) in southern Florida in a study that failed to demonstrate negative effects of piroplasm infection on measured hematologic parameters. However, a recent study with a nested 18s rRNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay identified only 9% of the free-ranging cougars in southern Florida as infected with C. felis but found 83% of these animals were infected with an unnamed small Babesia sp. In this study, hematology and clinical chemistry parameters were determined during the initial appearance of piroplasms in stained blood films of three western cougars housed in northern Florida. One animal became ill, but the remaining two animals did not exhibit clinical signs of disease. The hematocrit decreased in all three cougars concomitant with the first recognized parasitemia. A regenerative response to anemia (increased polychromasia, increased mean cell volume, and increased red cell distribution width) was recognized in two cougars that were examined twice during the following 2 weeks. Thrombocytopenia and probable leukopenia occurred in one animal. The most consistent clinical chemistry findings were increased serum bilirubin concentrations and increased alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase activities at the time of initial recognition of parasitemia. Serum protein findings were not consistent in these cougars. The use of PCR and determination of 18S rRNA gene sequences in the blood from these three animals revealed infection with C. felis, but not with the Babesia sp. In this report, we demonstrate that mild hemolytic anemia, and probably liver injury, occurs concomitant with the initial discovery of C. felis piroplasms in stained blood films.
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Vol. 38 • No. 2