Increased Risk of Cats Getting Lyme Disease in the UK

The number of ticks which carry the bacteria which causes Lyme disease is on the increase in Britain and the increase is quite sharp. There has been an estimated 10% increase in the tick population in the past two decades due, it is thought, to warmer and wetter weather.

tick parasite

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It is said that Lyme disease has spread to the suburbs of Great Britain. Lyme disease is not something that can be brushed aside as some sort of minor ailment. It can be life changing or even fatal. It is underdiagnosed quite markedly and under researched. It has been described as a “sleeping giant” for public health which needs to be addressed by the medical authorities as soon as possible.

The marked increase in the spread of ticks threatens children, dog walkers and of course the domestic cat. In Britain nearly all domestic cats are allowed to go outside and roam freely. There are many homes which are sited near parks and other green spaces. Howard Carter, an expert on Lyme disease, says that he found ticks in three quarters of the parks in London. Some of the ticks from a study in Richmond Park, which, incidentally, is very near to where I live, were found to be infected with Lyme disease bacteria.

An expert believes that the true number of people (and quite possibly cats and dogs) infected by Lyme disease are much higher than previously estimated. They could be as many as 35,000 human cases annually.

Female deer tick
Female deer tick. Unbloated. The photo above shows a tick that has eaten and is bloated.

Domestic cats visiting woodland and parklands, which is quite commonplace, are at a heightened risk of coming into contact with ticks carrying Lyme disease and there is widespread ignorance about the risks of contracting this very severe condition.

I’m reminded, by the way, of the case of a Maine Coon cat contracting the disease in America. I know the owner of this cat and it was quite a shock for to find out that her cat had contracted Lyme disease. This is one reason why Americans often prefer to keep their cats inside.

The symptoms of Lyme disease can be mistaken for chronic fatigue syndrome in humans. It may be difficult to diagnose in cats and is certainly under diagnosed in people. The condition is underreported but recently a high-profile individual, the millionaire founder of Phones4U, John Caudwell, contracted the disease together with his son, his daughters from his first wife and his first wife. This heighten the profile of this nasty disease in the UK as it was widely reported.

In this article I’m more concerned about domestic cats than people. No doubt dogs are more likely to contract the disease and pick up a tick from long grass when going out for a walk with their owner. However, there is also, in the UK, at present, a greater likelihood of the domestic cat picking up this disease as well and therefore I am flagging up this potential hazard to cat owners.

For the record, lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria carried in the bloodstream of animals including deer and sheep. Ticks are small, parasitic insects about 5mm in length, which look like spiders. They thrive in humid conditions and attach themselves to vegetation. They feed on the blood of animals that they jump onto and bite. Two thirds of animals bitten develop a circular rash up to about 15 cm in diameter within around 30 days. The victim can suffer from headaches and fatigue. Antibiotics are used to treat the symptoms but they can be ineffective if the disease is not diagnosed quickly enough. Potential health problems are long-term and include conditions which affect the brain, nerve joints and heart.

Ticks should be removed from cats with care. There are alternatives to pesticides in controlling ticks.

Associated: cats getting Lyme disease from deer ticks in the USA.

Photo credit: Allies Dad creative commons.

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