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Evaluation of the association of Bartonella species,
feline herpesvirus 1, feline calicivirus, feline leukemia
virus and feline immunodeficiency virus with chronic
Jessica M Quimby DVM1*, Thomas Elston DVM, Dip ABVP(Feline)2, Jennifer Hawley BS1,
Melissa Brewer BS1, Arianne Miller BS1, Michael R Lappin DVM, PhD, Dip ACVIM
1College of Veterinary Medicine and
Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State
University, 300 West Drake Road,
Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
2The Cat Hospital, 3069 Edinger
Avenue, Tustin, CA 92780, USA
Gingivostomatitis (GS) is a significant condition in cats because of oral
discomfort and associated periodontal disease. Several infectious agents have
been associated with the presence of GS, but a causal relationship is unclear. The
cats in this study were housed together, had a history of flea exposure, and were
vaccinated with a modified live FVRCP product. There were nine cats with
active GS and 36 unaffected cats at the time of sample collection. Serum was
tested for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) antigen and antibodies against feline
immunodeficiency virus, feline calicivirus (FCV), feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1),
and Bartonella species (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and Western blot
immunoassay). PCR assays for Bartonella species and FHV-1 and a reverse
transcriptase PCR assay for FCV were performed on blood and throat swabs. All
cats were negative for FeLV. Assay results failed to correlate to the presence of
GS in the group of cats studied.
? 2007 ESFM and AAFP. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.Date accepted: 25 May 2007
swollen gums, halitosis and the potential for sig-
nificant oral discomfort resulting in dysphagia,
anorexia, and weight loss. In addition to being
painful to the animal, the chronic inflammation
of the gingiva can lead to progressive periodon-
tal disease (Lyon 2005). The diagnosis is based
on histopathology and characterization of reac-
tive cells in the tissue, which most frequently
consists of infiltrations of plasma cells primarily,
with lesser numbers of lymphocytes, neutro-
phils, and macrophages (Lyon 2005). The syn-
drome is likely to be multifactorial and it is
theorized to involve an exaggerated immune re-
sponse to either infectious or non-infectious anti-
gens. Genetic predisposition, nutritional factors,
ingivostomatitis (GS) is often recog-
nized in feline patients and is clinically
environment stresses, and domestication have
also been proposed as playing a part in the syn-
drome (Lyon 2005).
Infectious agents suspected to be associated
with GS in cats include feline immunodeficiency
virus (FIV) (Knowles et al 1989, Tenorio et al
1991, Waters et al 1993), feline leukemia virus
(FeLV) (Knowles et al 1989, Tenorio et al 1991),
feline calicivirus (FCV) (Knowles et al 1989,
1991, Tenorio et al 1991, Waters et al 1993, Addie
et al 2003, Lommer and Verstraete 2003), feline
herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1) (Hargis and Ginn 1999,
Lommer and Verstraete 2003), Bartonella species
(Ueno et al 1996, Glaus et al 1997, Dowers and
Lappin 2005), and a variety of other bacteria.
However, all of these agents can be harbored
by both healthy and clinically ill cats, so a causal
relationship is difficult to prove in individual
cats. It is also difficult to compare the results of
previous studies because the agents tested for
varied amongst the studies and the diagnostic
*Corresponding author. Tel: þ1-970-221-4535. E-mail:
Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2008) 10, 66e72
? 2007 ESFM and AAFP. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Author's personal copy
methods were not standardized. Further infor-
mation concerning the role infectious agents
play in this syndrome is needed to help design
improved diagnostic and therapeutic plans. The
purpose of this study was to perform a standard-
ized infectious disease diagnostic workup in
a group of communally housed, mixed source,
client-owned cats with and without GS in an at-
tempt to determine infectious disease associa-
tions and to determine the optimal diagnostic
Materials and methods
The cats in this study were in southern California
and had been allowed to commingle for 3e15
years (mean ¼ 8.2 years). The cats were owned
by a veterinary technician that acquired them
from a shelter (nine cats), as strays (nine cats),
by capture (13 cats; considered feral), and from
previous owners (eight cats). All of the cats had
a history of exposure to fleas 1.5 years previ-
ously, but had no evidence of current infestation.
Each of the cats had been vaccinated previously
with a FHV-1, FCV, and panleukopenia contain-
ing vaccine (Feline UltraNasal FVRCP Vaccine;
Heska Corporation, Loveland, Colorado) ap-
proximately 1 year prior to sample collection in
this study. None of the cats were administered
antimicrobial drugs within the 2 weeks before
At the time of sample collection, it was deter-
mined by one of the authors (TE) whether the
cats were unaffected or currently had GS. GS
was determined by presence of significant swol-
len, erythematous oral lesions including gingivi-
tis, faucitis and stomatitis. Cats that were
determined to be unaffected had no significant
erythematous oral lesions. Blood (3 ml) was col-
lected and placed into an EDTA tube (1.5 ml
draw) and a clot tube for serum separation. A
dry cotton swab was rolled over the lesion (GS
cats) or caudal pharynx (normal cats) and was
then placed in 1.0 ml of sterile 0.01 M phosphate
buffered saline and allowed to equilibrate at
room temperature for 2e3 h. The EDTA tube, se-
rum, and swabs were then stored at ?20?C until
shipped to Colorado State University by over-
night express on dry ice where they were stored
at ?70?C until assayed.
Serum was tested for FeLV antigen (SNAP
Combo FeLV/FIV; Idexx Laboratories, Portland,
ME) and antibodies against FIV (SNAP Combo
FeLV/FIV; Idexx Laboratories, Portland, ME),
FCV (Lappin et al 2002), FHV-1 (Lappin et al
2002), and Bartonella species (Lappin et al.,
2006a). Bartonella species antibody responses
were determined by both enzyme-linked immu-
nosorbent assay (ELISA) and Western blot
After thawing the samples at room tempera-
ture, DNA and RNA were extracted from blood
and swabs using a commercially available kit
(Qiagen, Valencia, CA) according to the manu-
facturer’s protocol. For swabs, 50 mg salmon
sperm DNA (Invitrogen Corporation, Carlsbad,
CA) was added per milliliter of manufacturer’s
lysis buffer. The swab was pressed against the
side of the tube to expel all possible liquid and
discarded. The entire sample was vortexed,
transferred to a 1.5 ml of RNase and DNase
free microcentrifuge tube and centrifuged for 5
min at 500 ? g. Supernatant was decanted and
the remaining pellet was resuspended in 400 ml
of sterile 0.01 M PBS. The remainder of the man-
ufacturer’s protocol was followed as written.
Each DNA extract was assessed for the presence
of DNA by spectrophotometry. PCR assays used
to amplify DNA of Bartonella species (Jensen et al
2000) and FHV-1 (Burgesser et al 1999) were
performed as previously described on all DNA
extracts. A reverse-transcription PCR (RT-PCR)
assay used to amplify RNA of FCV was
performed as previously described on all RNA
extracts (Sykes et al 1998).
To assess for associations between Bartonella spe-
cies, FHV-1 and FCV and GS, numbers of posi-
tive test results in cats with and without GS
were compared by two-tailed Fisher’s exact test
with significance defined as P < 0.05. To deter-
mine if any of the test results could be used to
predict GS in cats, positive predictive value and
negative predictive value (PPV and NPV) were
determined for each assay by comparing to the
current presence or absence of GS.
Because it is unknown whether the Bartonella
species ELISA or Western blot immunoassay is
the gold standard, sensitivity and specificity be-
tween the two assays could not be calculated.
Thus, results ofthe
blot (WB) immunoassay were compared by
67Association of infectious agents with feline gingivostomatitis
Author's personal copy
calculating percentage agreement using the fol-
½ðELISAþ;WB þ Þ þ ðELISA?;WB ? Þ?=
? ½ðELISAþ;WB þ Þ þ ðELISA?;WB ? Þ
þ ðELISAþ;WB ? Þ þ ðELISA?;WB þ Þ?
To determine whether Bartonella species anti-
bodies detected by ELISA or Western blot (WB)
correlated to the presence or absence of bacter-
emia, the PPV and NPV of the antibody tests
were calculated using blood PCR results as
a gold standard.
Overall, samples were available from 45 cats; 36
unaffected cats and nine with GS. Of the unaf-
fected cats, estimated ages were <1 year (zero
cats), 1e3 years (zero cats), 4e6 years (six cats),
7e9 years (10 cats), 10e12 years (11 cats), >13
years (seven cats) and the age was unknown
for two cats. Of the cats without GS, estimated
ages were <1 year (zero cats), 1e3 years (zero
cats), 4e6 years (one cat), 7e9 years (four cats),
10e12 years (four cats), >13 years (zero cats)
and the age was unknown for zero cats. Seven-
teen males and 19 females were clinically unaf-
exhibited GS. All of the cats were negative for
FeLV antigen. Five cats were positive for FIV an-
tibodies. Overall, prevalence rates for Bartonella
species antibodies by ELISA, Bartonella species
antibodies by Western blot, FHV-1 antibodies,
FCV antibodies, and FIV antibodies were 44%,
57.8%, 95.6%, 100%, and 10.9%, respectively.
The distribution of the serological test between
groups is presented in Table 1. None of the pos-
itive test results was associated with the presence
of GS. However, Bartonella species Western blot
results were negatively associated with GS (P ¼
0.0243; odds ratio ¼ 0.1429). None of the PPVs
of the serological tests was >40% (Table 2).
When the ELISA and Western blot immunoas-
say tests were compared, a 60% percentage
agreement was found. The discordant results
were ELISA positive, Western blot negative
(n ¼ 6) and ELISA negative, Western blot
positive (n ¼ 12). Overall, 26 cats were Western
blot positive (two cats had GS) and numbers of
Bartonella species immunodominant antigens
recognized ranged from two to eight antigens
per cat. The most commonly recognized antigens
had apparent molecular masses of 82 kDa (19
cats), 61.9 kDa (14 cats); 48 kDa (13 cats), and
57 kDa (11 cats).
Overall, prevalence rates for Bartonella species
DNA in blood, Bartonella species DNA on oral
swabs, FHV-1 DNA on oral swabs, and FCV
RNA on oral swabs were 2.2%, 11.1%, 6.7%,
and 6.7%, respectively. The distribution of PCR
and RT-PCR test results between groups is pre-
sented in Table 3. None of the positive test results
was associated with the presence of GS. The
PPVs for Bartonella species DNA, FHV-1 DNA,
and FCV RNA on oral swabs were 20%, 0%,
and 0%, respectively (Table 4). While the PPV
of the Bartonella species DNA in blood was
100%, only one positive sample was detected.
Of the five cats with Bartonella species DNA am-
plified from oral swabs, only one had GS and
none had Bartonella species DNA amplified
Positive Bartonella species culture or PCR assay
on blood can be used to determine bacteremia.
When compared to Bartonella species PCR assay
results from blood, the PPV and NPV of the Bar-
tonella species ELISA results for predicting bac-
teremia were 0% and 96%, respectively. When
compared to Bartonella species PCR assay results
from blood, the PPV and NPV of the Bartonella
species WB results for predicting bacteremia
were 0% and 95%, respectively.
Table 1. Distribution of serum antibody test results in group housed cats with (n ¼ 9) and without (n ¼ 36) stomatitis
GroupBartonella ELISABartonella Western blotFHV-1 ELISAFCV ELISAFIV ELISA
Unaffected 16(44.4%) 20 (55.6%) 24 (66.7%)
P ¼ 1
aTwo-tailed Fisher’s exact test; Pos ¼ positive; Neg ¼ negative.
4 (44.4%) 5 (55.6%)2 (22.2%)7 (77.8%)
12 (33.3%) 34 (94.4%) 2 (5.6%) 36 (100%) 0 (0%) 3 (8.3%)
P ¼ 1
9 (100%) 0 (0%)9 (100%) 0 (0%) 2 (22.2%)7 (77.8%)
P ¼ 0.0243P ¼ 1P ¼ 0.258
68 JM Quimby et al
Author's personal copy
Bartonella species, FHV-1, FCV, FeLV, and FIV can
be carried chronically by cats and have been pro-
posed as causes of GS. The cats in this study
were housed together, were vaccinated with
a modified live FVRCP vaccine intranasally,
and had a history of exposure to fleas. This his-
tory combined with the serologic test results
and PCR assay results suggest that each of the
cats had been exposed to at least one of these
agents. However, evidence of infection with Bar-
tonella species, FHV-1, FCV, FeLV or FIV was not
overrepresented in the cats with GS and so the
data fail to support the hypotheses that these or-
ganisms were a cause of GS in this population of
cats. However, there are a number of factors or
limitations that may have influenced the results
of this study including sampling, shipping and
storage factors, clearance or latency of the organ-
isms, presence of subsets of GS, and potential
variations in organism virulence.
Results of this study support previous research
in the literature which asserts that because of the
high prevalence rates of Bartonella species anti-
bodies in normal cats from natural exposure,
a positive antibody assay cannot be used to accu-
rately predict clinical illness from this agent in
individual cats (Breitschwerdt et al 2005, Pearce
et al 2006). In an attempt to further evaluate
clinical utility of antibody assay results, antigen
recognition patterns were examined by Western
blot. Bartonella species antigen recognition pat-
terns in the two cats in this study with GS were
similar to those of normal cats and so the West-
ern blot immunoassay did not appear to provide
additional predictive value. These results are
similar to another study on cats with and with-
out fever (Lappin et al., 2006a). Finally, the re-
sults of this study are also similar to those of
others that show that detection of Bartonella spe-
cies antibodies by any methodology does not ac-
curately predict presence of Bartonella species
bacteremia (Chomel et al 1995, Fabbi et al 2004,
Guptill et al 2004, Lappin et al., 2006a).
While most cats with experimental Bartonella
species infection have been clinically normal,
fever, loss of appetite, transient anemia, injection
site reactions, lymphadenopathy, and neurologi-
cal signs have been detected in some cats
(Regnery et al 1996, Abbot et al 1997, Guptill et al
1997, Kordick and Breitschwerdt 1997, Guptill
et al 1998, 1999, Kordick et al 1999, O’Reilly et al
1999, Mikolajczyk and O’Reilly 2000, Powell et al
2002, Yamamoto et al 2002a, 2002b, 2003).
In addition, some experimentally inoculated
cats develop histopathological lesions including
lymph node hyperplasia, abscesses, and lympho-
cytic inflammation of various tissues (Guptill
et al 1997, Kordick et al 1999). However, no men-
tion of gingival abnormalities was made in these
studies. Bartonella species infection of naturally
exposed cats has been associated with endocar-
ditis (Chomel et al 2003) and ocular disease (Lap-
pin and Black 1999, Lappin et al 2000, Ketring et al
2004). To date, the only studies suggesting that
Bartonella species infection causes GS in cats
were small serological studies from Europe and
Japan (Ueno et al 1996, Glaus et al 1997). How-
ever, another ongoing study comparing results
of Bartonella species PCR on blood and serum
Bartonella species IgG ELISA results on cats
with and without GS from which samples were
Table 2. Predictive values of Bartonella species,
FHV-1, FCV and FIV antibody tests for use with
cats with stomatitis
PPV ¼ positive predictive value; NPV ¼ negative pre-
Table 3. Distribution of PCR and RT-PCR assay results in group-housed cats with (n ¼ 9) and without
(n ¼ 36) stomatitis
GroupBartonella PCR-bloodBartonella PCR-swabFHV-1 PCR-swabFCV RT-PCR
Pos NegPos NegPosNeg PosNeg
P ¼ 0.2
P ¼ 1
P ¼ 1
33 (91.7%)3 (8.3%)
P ¼ 1
aTwo-tailed Fisher’s exact test; Pos ¼ positive; Neg ¼ negative.
69Association of infectious agents with feline gingivostomatitis
Author's personal copy
collected the same day in the same clinic has also
failed to show an association between Bartonella
species and GS (Dowers and Lappin 2005).
The widespread use of FHV-1 and FCV con-
taining vaccines and exposure to these common
feline viruses has resulted in high prevalence
rates of FHV-1 (Maggs et al 1999) and FCV
(Lappin et al 2002, Mouzin et al 2004) antibodies
in normal cats, lessening the predictive value of
these assays. However, previous studies have
shown increased FHV-1 (Lommer and Verstraete
2003) and FCV (Knowles et al 1989, Lommer and
Verstraete 2003) carriage rates in cats with GS
compared to normal cats by use of viral isolation.
In addition, one cat with chronic stomatitis was
PCR positive for FHV-1, 14 months after an
upper respiratory infection (Hargis and Ginn
1999). These results suggested that detection of
FHV-1, FCV, or Bartonella species in the oral
cavity may be more predictive than the results
of antibody assays.
To our knowledge, the study described here
was the first to attempt to correlate presence of
microbial DNA or RNA amplified from oral
swabs collected from cats with and without GS
housed in the same environment. Of the five Bar-
tonella species positive samples, only one came
from a cat with GS; FHV-1 and FCV were not am-
plified from any of the cats with GS. We believe
false negative Bartonella species and FHV-1 PCR
assays caused by poor sampling were uncom-
mon because DNA was detected by spectropho-
tometry in all samples. The viral capsid of FCV
protects against RNAase degradation and so
we also believe false negative FCV RT-PCR assay
results were unlikely. However, as mentioned
previously, there are a number of factors that
may have contributed to these findings.
It is possible that the organisms are not equally
distributed through the oral cavity and could
have been missed by our sampling technique. It
is also possible that organisms were present in
deeper tissues of the cats with GS but not the su-
perficial samples collected by oral swab. How-
ever, Bartonella species DNA has rarely been
detected in tissues of cats with GS in an ongoing
prospective study in our laboratory (Dowers and
Lappin 2005). It is also possible shipping and
storage affected assay results. Another consider-
ation is that chronic GS may be caused by a hy-
persensitivity reaction against the microbes,
leading to clearance of the agents and false neg-
ative results in PCR, RT-PCR, or virus isolation.
Sampling cats early in the syndrome may be
more likely to show an association. Both FCV
and FHV-1 have latent phases and so test results
may only be positive intermittently (Hargis and
Ginn 1999). It is possible that Bartonella species,
FHV-1, and FCV are only involved with subsets
of cats or GS and future studies of this type
should attempt to classify the lesions by severity
and location within the mouth. Lastly, different
strains of Bartonella species (Mikolajczyk and
O’Reilly 2000), FHV-1 (Hargis and Ginn 1999, Ha-
mano et al 2003), and FCV (Geissler et al 1997,
Poulet et al 2000, Hurley et al 2004) have different
degrees of virulence which may relate to the de-
velopment of GS.
To our knowledge, this is the first study to com-
pare the results of Bartonella species PCR assay on
blood andoral swab samples collected from natu-
rally infected cats. While the cats had all been
tently used flea control products for the last 1.5
years and felt the cats had been flea free during
that time. Thus, it is likely the Bartonella species
infected cats in this study maintained their infec-
tions for months, confirming the findings of
others using experimentally infected cats (Kor-
dick et al 1999). Bartonella species bacteremia
was only documented in one of 45 cats (2.2%),
none of the five cats with Bartonella species
DNA amplified from oral swabs were currently
bacteremic, and only one cat with Bartonella spe-
titis. The results show that use of blood or oral
swab PCR assay results is unlikely to correlate
with the presence of GS. In addition, the results
also confirm that Bartonella species DNA can be
present intermittently in blood and so detection
of a single negative PCR assay result cannot be
used to accurately assess infection status of cats
(Brunt et al 2006). Bartonella henselae lives in flea
dirt for 3e9 days after being passed by fleas (Hig-
gins et al 1996, Finkelstein et al 2002) and B hense-
lae or Bartonella clarridgeaie DNA was amplified
from 59.7% of fleas collected from naturally ex-
posed cats (Lappin et al 2006b). Thus, amplifica-
tion of Bartonella species DNA from oral cavity
swabs could result from grooming behavior
and ingestion of Bartonella species in flea dirt.
Table 4. PPV and NPV for PCR tests for use with
cats with stomatitis
70JM Quimby et al
Author's personal copy
However, the cats in this study had not been ex-
posed to fleas in the last 1.5 years and so the pos-
itive Bartonella species PCR assay results may
document the presence of infected red blood cells
in the mouth even without gross evidence of GS.
These findings support the recommendations
that flea control should be maintained at all times
and that bites and scratches should be avoided
(Brunt et al 2006).
In conclusion, a correlation between the pres-
ence of GS and FCV, FHV, FIV, FeLVor Bartonella
species in this colony of cases was not identified
and so the results did not support disease causa-
tion by any of the five agents. Diagnostic test
results for these infectious agents should be
interpreted carefully as none appear to correlate
to the presence or absence of disease.
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