BACKGROUND: Although reported sporadically from various countries, feline babesiosis appears to be a significant
clinical entity only in South Africa, where Babesia felis is usually incriminated as the causative agent. Babesia lengau,
recently described from asymptomatic cheetahs, has now possibly been incriminated as the causative agent in two
severe clinical cases in domestic cats.
FINDINGS: Both cats were euthanised in extremis. While typical feline babesiosis in South Africa is an afebrile
disease with a chronic manifestation, there was acute onset of severe clinical signs in both cats and their body
temperatures were above the normal range when they were presented for treatment. Haemolytic anaemia was
confirmed in one case. To our knowledge, this is the first report of cerebral babesiosis in cats.
On reverse line blot 18S rDNA PCR products obtained from both cats showed positive hybridization profiles with
the B. lengau species-specific probe. The two partial parasite 18S rRNA gene sequences obtained, showed high
sequence similarity (99.9%) to B. lengau. In a representative tree constructed by the neighbor-joining method
using the two-parameter model of Kimura the two obtained partial 18S rDNA sequences and that of B. lengau
formed a monophyletic group with B. conradae and sequences previously isolated from humans and wildlife in
the western USA.
CONCLUSION: All clinical cases of feline babesiosis in South Africa are not necessarily caused by B. felis. Other
piroplasms, e.g. B. lengau, may be incriminated in clinical cases, especially those occurring outside the known