Lyme Disease in Cats (reinforcing an indoor lifestyle)

Some cat owners in America are very alert to the possibility of their cat getting Lyme disease. The map shows the risk areas (sources: American Lyme Disease Foundation & Yale School of Public Health – 2012):

Lyme disease areas USA

PetMD states in a video that the risk areas are all 48 lower states which appears to be incorrect.

In the UK, it is relatively rare but with the hotter summers that we are seeing – perhaps due to global warming – there has been an increase in Lyme disease and sometimes it remains un-diagnosed by veterinarians who are unfamiliar with its symptoms.

You probably know that Lyme disease is caused by ticks that are present in vegetation. As a cat or dog walks through vegetation the tick hops onto the animal and feeds on it thereby delivering bacteria to the cat or dog which causes the bacterial infection called Lyme disease.  These are Ixodes ticks (deer blacklegged ticks).

In America, the disease appears to have become a problem in some areas but it may be overdiagnosed by American veterinarians which may in turn result in cat owners becoming overconcerned. However, it is certainly one reason why American cat caretakers keep their cats indoors all the time. The disease may be one reason why Americans are more likely to keep their cats inside the home (although catios and enclosures are a good compromise which are underutilized in my view).

The tick is prevalent in areas of abandoned farmland.  The bacteria is transmitted from the tick to the cat only after the tick has been feeding for upwards of 18 hours. Therefore if the tick is removed as soon as possible it may prevent the infection.

How does a cat caretaker know whether their cat has Lyme disease? It may be difficult to be certain because the symptoms overlap with the symptoms of other diseases and are vague such as:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • painful or stiff muscles and joints

Although, lameness is a predominant symptom. I would have thought this would be a good indicator at it is more precise (“shifting-leg lameness”). However, some cats don’t exhibit symptoms at all.

Guidelines issued to American cat owners (as I understand it), pose the following questions in order to help the cat’s owner to ascertain whether their cat has Lyme disease:

  • Is there a sign of a tick bite?
  • Is the cat an outdoor cat who wanders through grassland and wooldland where the tick could be present and is the area where the person lives a known area where the deer tick is present?
  • Does the cat suffer from lameness, lethargy, anorexia, low-grade fever and painful joints?
  • A veterinarian will do blood work. Does the test reveal antibodies to the lyme bacteria?
  • If a tick is removed from the cat it can be analysed to see whether it contains the Borrelia bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi).
  • After the cat has been given antibiotics do the symptoms subside?

The disease is not zoonotic – people cannot get the disease from their cat.

Sources: Sarah Hartwell, PetMD and as stated above. 

Facebook Discussion


Lyme Disease in Cats (reinforcing an indoor lifestyle) — 10 Comments

  1. Dee, I hate to disagree with you, but Lyme Disease is far more common here in Florida than previously believed. In fact there are a growing number of Lyme Disease support groups in our state that folks can now connect with.

    The problem with Lyme Disease is cats is there is no vaccine yet available to prevent this devastating disease from occuring in our kitties. Therefore the best solution is using a very high quality flea and tick control product on any cats that go outdoors. It take only one tick that is infected with the bacteria-

    It took ME two years to be diagnosed with Lyme (in New York) back when I was infected in 1989 and not diagnosed until 1991. I am chronic now as a result of not being treated immediately.

    So I would suggest putting it back on your list of outdoor dangers to cats. Seriously.

    • I remember you writing about having Lyme.
      I didn’t realize that it is as prevalent here as you’re saying. Duly added to the list.
      Just out of curiosity, does having had Lyme prevent you from donating blood or organs?

        • Michael,

          My doc told me that we cannot donate blood. Spirochetes do hide in the body- So that is why I am not able to donate blood. Spirochetes are the same type of bacteria as Sphylis bacteria, although they are not related.

      • Dee, sadly yes. I cannot donate blood or organs.

        Still have them spirochetes circulating somewhere in my body.

        The thing is that deer are not only the vector. Birds, mice, and other critters carry ticks. How can you stop birds and other wildlife from crossing over state borders?

  2. Lots of ticks here but not many of the species that transmit Lyme. So, I have to discount Lyme as one of the reasons for keeping a cat indoors.
    Ticks aren’t even on my list of outdoor dangers for cats.

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