Lyme Disease in Cats

Summary

Cats are considered resistant to Lyme disease, with no naturally occurring cases of this illness reported. In the laboratory, cats infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, do not develop symptoms. A cat infected with this bacteria can still pass it to any parasites that feed on them, which in turn may infect other animals of any host species.

Since Lyme disease has not been reported in cats outside of laboratory settings, there are no established diagnostic or treatment protocols in place for this disease in cats.

Although Lyme disease is not a risk to cats, many other types of tick-borne illness are. It is important to keep cats on year-round veterinarian approved anti-parasitic medication. Many tick-borne illnesses can be transmitted between different species, including humans. This potential transmission makes preventative tick control a matter of public health for pets and humans alike. It is recommended to consult a vet before choosing external parasite control because there are many products on the market which are neither effective nor safe, and some are even lethal to cats.

Risk Factors

Lyme disease in cats has not been reported with the exception of experimentally induced infections. Cats are considered resistant to the disease-causing agent, Borrelia burgdorferi. Pet parents do not need to be concerned about Lyme disease causing illness in their cats. 

Studies have shown that exposed cats develop antibodies against the bacteria, indicating an immune response, however no associated symptoms develop. The reason why cats do not develop symptomatic disease when many other mammals do, is unknown.

Possible Causes

Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria transmitted by ticks. Cats are exposed to the bacteria when an infected tick feeds on them.

Main Symptoms

Cats do not develop symptoms from Lyme disease.

Detailed Characterization

No symptoms are associated with Borrelia burgdorferi infection in cats.

Testing and Diagnosis

There are no established diagnostic or treatment protocols for Borrelia infection in cats. Many of the veterinary diagnostic tests for Lyme disease are specific to dogs, and have not been studied in cats.

Steps to Recovery

Since Lyme disease has only been reported in a laboratory setting in cats, the prognosis and recovery time in household cats are unknown.

Prevention

Lyme disease is transmitted by Ixodes ticks, which acquire the bacteria by feeding on an infected host, then pass it to the next animal they feed on. Although cats do not develop symptoms of Borrelia infection, the bacteria may still be present within their bloodstream. Ticks feeding on the cat may spread the bacteria to other pets or people it feeds on later. Lyme disease is a serious disease in other mammals, and leads to symptoms like:

• Lameness

• Lethargy

• Fever

• Arthritis

• Kidney failure

Due to the risk of disease spread, maintaining cats on year-round anti-parasitic medications is critical for preventing disease transmission across all potential host species. These medications reduce the cat’s exposure to ticks, preventing both infection by Borrelia and further disease transmission if the cat does become infected. 

It is important to only use cat-approved medications, as several of the anti-parasitic medications used in dogs are lethal to cats. Read more about tick control in cats here

Prompt removal of ticks found on cats is important. To remove a tick, use tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin and slowly pull upwards using steady pressure. Do not crush, twist or jerk on the tick. Do not attempt to use matches, petroleum jelly, turpentine, nail polish, or rubbing alcohol on the tick to remove it. 

After removal, clean the bite area with mild soap and water. Ticks can be disposed of by putting them in rubbing alcohol, sealing them in a container, wrapping them tightly with tape, or flushing them down the toilet.

Is Lyme Disease Common in Cats?

Lyme disease is not a naturally occurring disease of cats. It has only been reported experimentally.

Typical Treatment

If Lyme disease is suspected in a cat, similar protocols to those used in dogs may be attempted. Due to the complete lack of occurrence of Lyme disease in cats reported to date, the efficacy of these protocols is unknown. The prognosis and recovery time for this potential disease are also unknown for the same reason. 

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