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):
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:
- 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.