Lyme disease in cats is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted through tick bites. The tick that transmits the bacteria is called deer tick or tiny-legged tick.
The scientific name of the species on the west coast of the United States is Ixodes pacificus and Ixodes scapularis in other regions. It’s vital to keep in mind that the tick does not cause Lyme disease but rather is the carrier of the bacteria that causes it.
According to a study done by Merck Animal Health, almost three-quarters of pet parents (72%) do not research flea and tick prevention yet ticks carry serious life-threatening diseases, including Lyme disease, and are active in almost all climates and environments throughout the U.S.
According to Dr. Dottie Normile, Associate Director, Scientific Marketing Affairs at Merck Animal Health, pet parents should have information on the risks ticks pose to their feline friends and how they can help prevent it.
If you’ve cats as pets, understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments for the disease is important. Spotting the symptoms early on can be the difference between life and death for your feline friend. So, can cats get Lyme disease, and if yes, what are the symptoms to look out for?
Can cats get Lyme disease?
Though highly unlikely, cats can contract Lyme disease and can be quite severe. The disease, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is more common in humans and dogs. The bacteria is transmitted by the tiny deer ticks and cats that spend a lot of time out in the open are at a higher risk of catching the disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease in cats
While cats with Lyme disease are unlikely to show symptoms of Lyme disease at the initial stages, the most common symptoms include fever, lethargy and fatigue, loss of appetite, lameness or limping, difficulty breathing, and stiff and/or swollen joints and/or muscles.
Cats often start showing any of the symptoms about four weeks after infection. That’s why you need to rush your cat to a veterinarian the moment you notice any of these symptoms because the disease can turn severe really fast.
Can Lyme disease kill a cat?
Untreated Lyme disease can get extremely severe and can kill your cat. Some cats have suppressed immune systems, and if untreated, the disease can lead to extensive joint damage, kidney failure, neurologic dysfunction, and even life-threatening cardiac complications. Never, for one second, think your cat can’t die of Lyme disease.
How to diagnose Lyme disease in cats
Lyme disease can be diagnosed through a variety of lab tests, including blood analyses. Your vet will also carry out a physical examination to check for any Lyme disease symptoms. Additionally, you will be asked about your cat’s recent activities, including their outdoor activities and how often they go outside. All these help vets determine if the cat has Lyme disease.
Is there a cure for Lyme disease in cats
Treatment for Lyme disease in cats often involves the use of antibiotics. Studies indicate that prompt treatment is essential for cats to achieve full recovery. However, if the treatment is delayed, it may take longer for the cat to recover while untreated infections can result in irreversible tissue damage.
In some cases, additional therapy is necessary to help the affected organ systems recover. This is often the case if the kidneys, heart, or nerves have been affected.
How to protect cats from Lyme Disease
Although there’s no vaccine to protect cats against Lyme disease, there are many cat-safe insect repellents that help prevent tick bites. You should consult your veterinarian for safe products to use because cats are sensitive to many insecticides. You should also brush the cat’s coat and thoroughly examine it for ticks if they have been outdoors.
Studies indicate that infected deer ticks begin to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease after being attached to a cat for 36-48 hours. To reduce the chances of a cat contracting Lyme disease, you should examine your cat each time they return indoors and remove ticks before 36 hours.
It’s important to note that the ticks can transmit the disease to humans and dogs too. Always wear gloves and avoid touching the tick with bare hands. You should also clean your hands with clean water and a strong detergent after disposing of the tick in a jar of alcohol.
Can cats pass Lyme disease to humans?
According to CDC, there is no scientific evidence that indicates cats can spread Lyme disease to humans. However, they can bring the ticks into your home or yard and you can get the disease from the tick bites. To stay safe, protect yourself and your cats using tick control products for animals.
While cats can get Lyme disease, the chances of them dying from the infection is low. Protect your cat from getting Lyme disease by brushing their coats every time they are back indoors. You can also protect them using tick control products for cats.
Always check out for symptoms such as fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, lameness or limping, and difficulty breathing. The need for these measures is greater if your cat or any other pet has been spending considerable time outdoors.