What Is Cryptococcosis in Cats?

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on February 12, 2024
3 min read

Cryptococcosis is a fungal disease that affects vital organs. It is caused by the infection-containing spores of the fungi Cryptococcus complex. This fungus is primarily found in North America, Europe, and Australia. 

When the cat inhales these infectious spores, they develop the cryptococcosis infection. It affects their respiratory tract, central nervous system, and skin. 

The feline cryptococcosis infection requires a proper diagnosis and treatment to cure. The cat may need continuous treatment until its antigen test comes out negative.

Cryptococcosis occurs when the animal breathes in the infectious fungi spores. 

The fungi that cause the infection, including Cryptococcus neoformans, are present naturally in your environment. They can also be found in animal tissues in yeast form. The waste or feces of birds, like pigeons, and decaying vegetation may also contain these fungi.

Cryptococcosis also affects other domestic animals, such as dogs, horses, sheep, cattle, birds, and wild animals worldwide. However, cats are more likely to develop this infection.

Cryptococcosis in cats' symptoms depends on the type of infection, which may vary from animal to animal. The four types are:

Nasal cryptococcosis 

This is the most common form that affects the respiratory tract of the cat. Nasal cryptococcosis causes difficulty in breathing, followed by loss of appetite, weight loss, loss of balance, and possible ear problems. 

Other common symptoms are:

  • Chronic nasal discharge
  • Heavy or loud breathing
  • Swelling of the face and nose
  • Sneezing
  • Non-healing wounds on the nose
  • A visible collection of masses in the nasal cavity

Central nervous system (CNS) cryptococcosis 

This form of cryptococcosis happens when the nasal form spreads into the cat's brain from the nasal cavity. Cats with CNS cryptococcosis experience severe behavioral and nervous changes, including:

  • Sudden blindness
  • Seizures 
  • Spinal or head pain

Cutaneous cryptococcosis 

This cryptococcosis form is identified by a single or several nodules on the cat's skin. These nodules don't cause itchiness and may also be present right below the skin of the cat. The pet may also have lymph node enlargement.

Systemic cryptococcosis 

Systemic cryptococcosis happens when the infection enters the cat's bloodstream. Cats with systemic cryptococcosis can experience changes in their eyes and bones. Other symptoms may include:

  • Joint inflammation
  • Fatigue
  • Multi-organ system disease
  • Anorexia

The quick method of diagnosing cryptococcosis in cats is an antigen detection test, known as a Latex Agglutination Test (LAT). This test is done using the cat's blood or urine sample or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). 

In some cases of nasal or cutaneous cryptococcosis, the blood test may come out negative even upon identifying cryptococcosis. The doctor may take tissue samples from the affected areas to find evidence of fungus.

Some vets may also use antigen titers to examine the animal's response to any diagnosis therapy.

Yes, cryptococcosis in cats can be cured with prolonged or continuous treatment with antifungal drugs. Treatment may last for many months. Cryptococcosis in cats treatment may also include surgical removal of the skin lesions. 

Some medications used in the treatment include fluconazole or itraconazole, amphotericin B, flucytosine, and amphotericin B lipid complex. There is a chance that the cat may develop drug resistance over time. As a result, doctors opt for combination therapy with amphotericin.

The cryptococcosis treatment must continue until the Latex Agglutination Test turns out negative. Alternatively, the vet may also continue the treatment for 2 to 4 months until the symptoms go away, or even after that.

Cats usually recover faster than dogs or horses, but if the infection has affected the cat's nervous system, it may take more time and care than usual. 

The duration of the recovery from cryptococcosis depends upon its early diagnosis, treatment, and appropriate management. 

If you suspect that your cat has this illness, visit your vet as soon as possible to get prompt treatment.