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Lyme Disease in Cats

How Cats Can Get Lyme and What to Do

By Lauren Leonardi. May 01, 2013 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Lyme Disease in Cats

Cats can get Lyme disease just like dogs can, though it is less common. Find out how to protect your cat.

Is my cat at risk of getting Lyme Disease?

The short answer is: not commonly, no. The long answer is...

Hosting the Bacteria vs. Developing Lyme

Lyme disease is cause by a bacteria. The bacteria generally originates in small rodents like mice. Ticks -- often hard shelled deer ticks -- pick the bacteria up from these small animals. Later, if one of these bacteria-carrying ticks finds their way to you or your pet, the bacteria can then be transferred. The bacteria is what causes Lyme disease.

Cats have been known to contract the bacteria, and even carry it for the long term. However, they don’t typically develop symptoms of Lyme disease. Cats have a unique immune system. Their body is able to tolerate the bacteria in ways that canine and human bodies cannot.

Although it’s rare, it is possible for cats to develop Lyme disease. If you’ve noticed unusual behavior, or if your cat appears to be unwell, and you aren’t able to figure out why, it could be Lyme.

Indications that Your Cat Might Have Lyme Disease

Symptoms of Lyme disease in cats, dogs, and in humans, are of a general lack of wellness. Your cat may appear lethargic or more irritable than usual. Sometimes lameness occurs. A specific sort of lameness may occur in which one leg appears to bother your cat, then a few days later, a different leg will bother them. This is known as shifting-leg lameness.

Other indications of Lyme may include swollen joints that are warm to the touch and an unpleasant reaction from your cat, or “pain response,” when you attempt to feel the joint. Cats may refuse food, appear to be in pain, or not want to be touched.

At this point, you’ll want to bring your cat in to see the vet.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Lyme Disease in Cats

The veterinarian will get a history from you regarding when and where your cat plays outdoors, or whether other pets or children (or you!) might have brought ticks into the house. They’ll likely test your cat’s urine and blood.

Because Lyme disease is rare in cats, it’s sometime difficult to diagnose. Blood tests may show your cat is carrying the bacteria, and your cat may be exhibiting symptoms that point to Lyme, but in the end, it could be some other ailment or allergy that’s troubling your cat.

If  symptoms and the environment your cat lives in point to the possibility of Lyme disease, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics. If it is in fact Lyme disease, your cat should respond quickly and positively to this course of treatment. Symptoms will ease up, and then disappear. It’s only then that you’ll know for sure that you were in fact dealing with Lyme. If symptoms persist, you may need to go back to the vet.

Long Term Effects of Lyme Disease in Cats

Because Lyme disease is rare in cats, it may sometimes go undiagnosed. As with Lyme disease in humans (and dogs), cats will see the best results from treatment as early as possible. Left undiagnosed and untreated, Lyme could cause some very unfortunate afflictions down the road, including kidney disease and respiratory problems, though instances are rare.

Prevention

Lyme disease is one of many tick-borne ailments, and these diseases are no fun for anyone. Although Lyme is rare in cats, your cat may be exposed to other tick-borne diseases, including Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The best prevention from these diseases is prevention of ticks in the first place.

If your cat roams outdoors, consider a monthly spot-on flea and tick repellant. For outdoor time only, in high infestation areas, flea and tick collars can help. The best prevention of all is good old fashioned hands-on time. Feel around for ticks as often as you’re able. If you find a tick on your cat’s body, remove it carefully, and destroy it. It’s unlikely that a tick that hasn’t yet had its fill has transmitted any diseases or disease-causing bacteria. If the tick is engorged, be on the lookout for symptoms in your cat in a few weeks time. Remember: early detection and treatment are best.

More on Protecting Your Feline from Lyme Disease

Do I Really Need Flea and Tick Protection?
Flea and Tick Season: When to Use What Treatment
How to Get Rid of a Tick

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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