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Lyme Disease in Cats: Symptoms, Treatments & Prevention

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Lyme Disease in Cats: Symptoms, Treatments & Prevention

Posted by Julianne Macaraeg on
Updated at: January 18, 2021

As a cat owner, you keep your feline friend healthy in every way you can. You attend regular checkups with your veterinarian, get your feline’s vaccinations, and give him deworming pills.

These are all well-understood veterinary practices that are easy enough to follow. However, not every pet owner takes the risk of Lyme disease seriously. 

In cats, Lyme disease is very rare but can still have severe consequences if you don’t handle it properly. 

You may be wondering: 

  • What exactly is Lyme disease?
  • How is it transmitted?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • Should I be concerned about it affecting my cat?
  • Are there any ways to prevent it?

 Read on to learn everything you need to know about this condition in felines.

What is Lyme Disease?

What Is Lyme Disease in Cats | Innovet Pet

Lyme disease is a condition that affects animals and humans. If left untreated, it can affect the host’s joints and central nervous system. 

At least four different species of ticks can transmit Lyme disease. However, the most common one is by far the deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick. 

Deer ticks themselves don’t cause Lyme disease. Rather, they transmit the bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi that causes it. If a deer tick doesn’t carry these bacteria, it cannot pass Lyme disease to an animal or human. 

However, as many as half of all adult ticks carry this bacteria in some areas in the U.S. This is why you must implement preventative measures for both yourself and your pets.

Start by knowing common facts about ticks: 

  • These arachnids tend to prefer animals like deer and mice, but they will certainly feed on domestic animals if given the opportunity.
  • These pests are most likely to look for a host in the spring or fall in their adult form. In their immature nymph form, ticks are most likely to feed on an animal during the summer.
  • When it comes to Lyme disease in domestic animals, the condition is much more common in dogs. However, cats are not immune to becoming infected.
  • Once they have your cat on their radar, ticks will climb through their fur and onto their skin. A tick can attach itself to your cat and bite. If the arachnid is infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, it will spread Lyme disease within 24 hours of the tick bite.

What Are The Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Cats?

If they are infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, cats normally don’t show Lyme disease symptoms. Unlike humans, they normally do not present a rash at the site of the tick bite. 

With this in mind, there are some other symptoms and signs of Lyme disease that your feline may display:

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Cats | Innovet Pet
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Inflammation of the joints
  • Leg lameness or stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing

Seek medical attention immediately if you notice any of these signs, especially if your cat has difficulty breathing. Your veterinarian will determine if the issue is Lyme disease or something else. 

How Lyme Disease in Cats Is Diagnosed?

While you can watch for signs and symptoms, the only way to know if your feline has this condition is through laboratory tests. 

The CatWatch Newsletter reports that Lyme disease can be diagnosed by examining blood samples. You will have to get a SNAP-4DxPlus test for your cat. If your feline has Lyme disease, laboratory tests will show the presence of a certain antibody. 

How To Treat Lyme Disease in Cats

According to the CDC, felines cannot spread Lyme disease to humans. So, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about your feline transmitting the disease directly to you during the treatment process. 

Even though you are safe from the condition, you still need to implement an effective treatment plan for your feline friend. 

Here are a couple of the most common practices used to treat Lyme disease in cats:

Removal

If you happen to find a tick on your cat, follow these steps to remove it:

  1. Part your feline’s fur with your fingers to expose as much of the tick as possible.
  2. Use a pair of tweezers to grab the arachnid right where it is entering your cat’s skin. Grab the arachnid by the head rather than the body. If you grab it by the body, its head may break off and stay in your cat. Pull steadily and outward without twisting the pest. 
  3. Kill the arachnid by placing it in an alcohol solution.
  4. Attend to your cat’s bite wound. Use a cotton swab to apply disinfectant to the infection site like iodine, hydrogen peroxide, or rubbing alcohol.
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  6. Monitor your feline’s symptoms and infection site over the next several weeks

Removing these arachnids promptly will greatly reduce your cat’s chances of acquiring Lyme disease. You will prevent inflammation of the joints and other serious problems down the line.

Antibiotics

After monitoring your cat’s symptoms and performing lab testing, your veterinarian may find your cat has Lyme disease. 

If this is the case, your cat will need to be treated with an antibiotic. This will combat inflammation of the joints and other symptoms of Lyme disease. He should show signs of a quick recovery if treated promptly. 

If you don’t get your feline started on antibiotics soon after becoming infected, they may require prolonged veterinary care. In very rare instances, the central nervous system may be severely affected.

How To Prevent Feline Lyme Disease

Even though Lyme disease is rare in felines, you shouldn’t take any chances. Here are some simple precautionary steps to prevent your cat from getting Lyme disease:

Know Tick Control Technique

How To Prevent Feline Lyme Disease | Innovet Pet

Whenever you or your feline returns from spending time outdoors, check for ticks. They are big enough to see and feel with your hands. Check your clothing for signs of these pesky arachnids and run your hand through your feline’s fur to ensure they don’t bring any inside.

To aid with the preventative process, apply a topical treatment once a month. Spot-on treatments like Frontline or Advantage will kill adult ticks and prevent new ones from causing an infection.

If you prefer, there are also oral treatments available to prevent infections. Talk to your veterinarian to determine the one that’s best for your feline friend.

Whichever treatment you use, ensure that is safe for cats. Do not assume that a tick product created for canines will be acceptable for your feline. 

Make Your Cat Stay Indoors

Outdoor cats, even those who split their time indoors and outdoors, are much more likely to get Lyme disease than strictly indoor cats. Because ticks transmit this condition, felines usually acquire it from roaming around outside.

With this in mind, you should know that indoor felines are not immune to the disease. Other pets may bring ticks into your yard or home. You and your family can also inadvertently track these arachnids indoors via your clothing. 

Use Tick Repellent Collars

If you can’t stand the thought of your feline being inside all day, you can make him an outdoor cat and still prevent ticks from biting him. 

Invest in a tick repellent collar. This accessory will kill and repel fleas for up to 8 months. The collar doesn’t have an odor and isn’t greasy, so your cat won’t be bothered by it.

Conclusion

Though Lyme disease is rare in felines, you must be aware of it as a potential problem. As long as you follow preventative measures, your feline friend shouldn’t be at high risk for developing the condition! 

Always bring up any concerns you have to your veterinarian, and he or she will offer recommendations, solutions, and testing when necessary. 

Sources:

Transmission
Indoor Cats Aren't Safe From Lyme
Half of Adult Ticks Carry Lyme Disease; Hudson Valley Hardest-Hit

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