What is Lyme Disease?
The type of bacteria that causes Lyme disease is transmitted by certain types of ticks, namely the deer tick in the US. These ticks will start to transmit the disease within 36-48 hours of attaching to the cat’s coat. Brushing your cat each time they come inside will help you spot a tick. If you remove the tick using a pair of tweezers within the first 48 hours, your cat will have a significantly reduced chance of contracting Lyme disease. Always wear gloves and sterilize your hands after removing a tick, because Lyme disease from ticks can also affect humans.
Lyme disease is incredibly rare in cats. In fact, it’s so rare that it has never been diagnosed in a house cat, or any other cat, outside of a laboratory. Lyme disease is much more common in dogs, but it is important to know the signs, as the disease can lead to other severe problems such as kidney failure, neurological dysfunction, joint damage, and cardiac conditions.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Cats
Even when they are infected, many cats won’t show any symptoms until the disease has caused more significant damage. This will take place usually around four weeks after the initial bite. It’s important to keep an eye out for these symptoms if you suspect your cat has Lyme disease:
- Lameness or limping
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Stiff and/or swollen joints or muscles
It is imperative that you take your cat to the vet immediately upon noticing symptoms.
Causes of Lyme Disease in Cats
The primary cause of Lyme disease in cats is exposure to deer ticks or Western black-legged ticks, particularly in warm weather. These ticks transmit the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi when they bite an animal, not the disease itself. These bacteria cause Lyme disease, and spread through the bloodstream immediately after the bite.
Ticks don’t jump from host to host like fleas; they crawl in the grass and await their host. The best way to protect your cat against Lyme disease is to practice prevention through the use of certain flea and tick medications. Always consult your vet regarding which one is safest for your cat, as cats can be sensitive to these types of medications.
Diagnosis of Lyme Disease in Cats
The first step in diagnosing Lyme disease will be to carry out a physical examination of the cat. Your vet can also use a number of tests to determine whether or not your cat has Lyme disease. The most popular and effective diagnostic test is a blood analysis. Your vet will likely ask about your cat’s outdoor activity, as well as when you first noticed their symptoms.
Treatment of Lyme Disease in Cats
Due to the rarity of Lyme disease in domestic cats, treatment methods are not as fully understood or clearly outlined as they are for dogs.
Most cases of Lyme disease are treated with a course of antibiotics. In some cases, though, antibiotics may not be entirely curative. Cats that are treated as soon as possible have a very good chance of making a full recovery. Limb and joint conditions caused by Lyme disease also respond rapidly to treatment. However, limb and joint symptoms may not clear up completely in many animals infected with the disease, even after treatment.
If Lyme disease remains untreated for several weeks, treatment and recovery may become prolonged. Untreated Lyme disease will cause irreversible damage to the tissues, particularly in the joints and limbs.
Recovery of Lyme Disease in Cats
Recovery will depend on how long the cat has had Lyme disease and whether or not it has caused tissue damage. However, since there are so few cases of Lyme disease in cats, there is little information available on the treatment methods and recovery prognoses of tissue that has been irreversibly damaged by Lyme disease.
While there is a vaccine for dogs that will help prevent Lyme disease, there is no preventative vaccine for cats, so you’ll want to ensure you take necessary preventative measures at home. Always brush your cat carefully after it goes outside, checking their coat carefully for ticks. If you do see a tick, always wear gloves during removal. Never touch the tick with your bare hands, and only remove it using a pair of tweezers. Ticks are notoriously difficult to kill, so ensure that you dispose of them in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.
Consult your vet regarding which tick and flea medications are safe to administer to your cat. The vet may prescribe a round of antibiotics for use at home. Your vet may also schedule a follow-up appointment to ensure that the disease has been fully eradicated.
Lyme Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I just removed a tick from my cat but there is a red circle around the spot I removed the tick. She seems normal I have a photo of the spot. I’m just wondering if it’s lime. She is on tick medicine but I’m not sure what to do. She is acting normal. Should I take her to the vet?
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HI: MY Siamese cat Yoda has been tested positive for Lyme disease. This occurred some months ago and was probably misdiagnosed. We finally had blood work done and the test results were positive.
We have done a 3 week treatment of anti-biotics.
I there anything else that we can do. She has shown improvement but she is by no means back to normal.
Treatment for Lyme Disease involves antibiotic treatment with doxycycline for a minimum period of four weeks; other antibiotics may be used but doxycycline covers other infections which may be found along with Lyme Disease. Apart from antibiotics, the only other treatment is supportive and symptomatic care. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
My ragdoll cat has Lyme disease. She is on a slew of antibiotics including doxycycline amoxicillian and orbax along with onsior and an anti seizure medicine and cyproheptadine. She basically lays there breathing. We force feed her 6 times a day and we hold her in the litter box to pee. This is the 2nd week of treatment. I'm having a very hard time finding information on the duration of illness, what to expect, length of time, and prognosis. She did have a few days where she was able to walk and eat on her own but then she had a major set back. Is it normal to get a little better than worse again? Is her just laying there breathing normal? We don't want to put her down at all but we also don't want to prolong the inevitable. However we are hopeful she will get better, but seeing her just laying there is heartbreaking. She's such a wonderful indoor only cat and it's so wrong she has this tick disease. Is there anything else we could be doing for Her? How long does it take for them to start walking again?
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