Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Mycobacterium bovis

Synonym(s): M. bovis

Contributor(s): Susan Dawson, Danielle Gunn-Moore, Melissa Kennedy




  • Family: Mycobacteriaceae.
  • Genus: Mycobacterium.
  • Species: bovis.


  • Gr: myces- fungus; bakterion- a small rod.
  • L: bov-, bos - ox.

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Clinical Effects



  • Major reservoir is dairy cattle and salivatic reservoir of small rodents.
  • Humans also infected.
  • Can also survive in the soil.


  • Cats fed contaminated milk, milk products or meat.
  • Contact with infected humans.

Pathological effects

  • Cats are sensitive to M. bovis infection, though relatively resistant to other tuberculous mycobacteria.
  • Cats respond erratically to intradermal or ophthalmic tuberculin testing.
  • Immunity largely cell-mediated, but lesions formed in part by the cell-mediated immune response.
  • Antibodies are markers of infection, not mediators of resistance.
  • Widespread pyogranulomatous lesions indicate poor protective immune response.
  • Survives in macrophages.
  • Infection via oral (most common), skin or mucous membranes, or pulmonary exposure.
  • Incubation period 2 months to more than 1 year.
  • Initial lesions usually in wall of gastrointestinal tract or hilar lymph nodes   →   infection spreads by lymphatic and hematogenous routes   →   tonsils, lymph nodes, cecum and nasal turbinates.
  • Disease may later extend to serosa, mucosae or bone.
  • Pleural or peritoneal effusions may occur.
  • Skin or ocular infections may also be seen. Ulcerative skin lesions more common in cats; ocular involvement leading to blindness may occur.
  • Generally presents as chronic wasting with localized or widespread pyogranulomatous inflammation.


Control via animal

  • Uncommon in US due to eradication efforts.
  • Avoid contact with infected dairy products/meat or infected humans.
  • Prevent hunting.

Control via chemotherapies

  • Not well established in cats.
  • Ethical question over treatment; possible zoonotic risk.
  • Euthanasia may be recommended on public health grounds.
  • Bacteriological cure may not coincide with resolution of clinical signs.
  • Combination therapy (humans and dogs).
  • Enrofloxacin   Enrofloxacin  , Rifampin, Azithromycin   Azithromycin  .
  • Isoniazid, ethambutol, rifampin.
  • Streptomycin   Streptomycin  .

Control via environment

  • Control of bovine tuberculosis.


  • None.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Gibbens N (2014) Mycobacterium bovis infection in cats. Vet Rec 174 (13), 331-332 PubMed.
  • Arvand M, Mielke M E, Weinke T et al (1998) Primary isolation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis on blood agar during the diagnostic process for cat scratch disease. Infection 26 (4), 254 PubMed.
  • Gunn-Moore D & Shaw S (1997) Mycobacterial disease in the cat. In Practice 19 (9), 493-499, 501 VetMedResource.
  • Hughes M S, Ball N W, Beck L A et al (1997) Determination of the etiology of presumptive feline leprosy by 16S rRNA gene analysis. J Clin Microbiol 35 (10), 2464-2471 PubMed.
  • Aranaz A, Liébana E, Pickering X et al (1996) Use of polymerase chain reaction in the diagnosis of tuberculosis in dogs and cats. Vet Rec 138 (12), 276-280 PubMed.
  • Gunn-Moore D A, Jenkins P A & Lucke V M (1996) Feline tuberculosis​: a literature review and discussion of 19 cases caused by an unusual mycobacterial variant. Vet Rec 138 (3), 53-58 PubMed.
  • Hart C A, Becking N & Duerden B I (1996) Tuberculosis into the next century. Proceedings of a symposium held on 4 February 1995 at the Liverpool School of Medicine. J Med Microbiol 44 (1), 1-34 PubMed.
  • Isaac J, Whitehead J, Adams J W et al (1983) An outbreak of Mycobacterium bovis in cats in an animal house. Aus Vet J 60 (8), 243-245 PubMed.
  • Orr C M, Kelly D F, Lucke V M (1980) Tuberculosis in cats: a report of two cases. JSAP 21 (4), 247-253 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Hirsh D C & Zee Y C (1999) Eds Veterinary Microbiology. Malden: Blackwell Science Inc. pp 158-164. ISBN 0 8654 2543 4.