A closer look: Lyme Disease in Cats
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.
No symptoms are associated with Borrelia burgdorferi infection in cats.
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Lyme disease is spread by ticks, which are found in outdoor environments globally. Any outdoor cat or cats who share living space with outdoor animals (includinf humans) is at risk of exposure to ticks. Although tick exposure is a risk for all house pets, cats are not considered at risk of lyme disease at all.
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.
Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria transmitted by Ixodes ticks. Ticks acquire the bacteria by feeding on an infected host, then pass it to the next animal they feed on. Cats are exposed to the bacteria when an infected tick feeds on them.
Cats do not develop symptoms from Lyme disease.
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. 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.
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.
Although cats do not develop symptoms of Borrelia infection, the bacteria may still be present within their bloodstream when an infected tick feeds on them. 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. 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 recommended to consult a vet before choosing external parasite control because there are many products on the market which are neither effective nor safe for cats. It is important to only use cat-approved medications, as several of the anti-parasitic medications used in dogs are lethal to cats.
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.
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.
Is Lyme Disease in Cats common?
Lyme disease is not a naturally occurring disease of cats. It has only been reported experimentally.
Since cats do not develop symptoms of lyme disease, there is no treatment for the condition in cats.