Lyme Disease in Cats: Symptoms & Prevention

Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases on Earth.

Fortunately, it’s very uncommon to find in cats. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Lyme disease in cats doesn’t present obvious symptoms, which is why it’s important to be aware of the illness and its causes.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that is present in both wild an domesticated animals. It’s caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium species of Borrelia burgdorferi. Though most known cases of the disease in cats was found during experimental infection, it’s not yet known whether it occurs naturally in felines and still poses a risk.

Ninety-five percent of confirmed Lyme disease cases in the United States are spread across 14 states. Cat owners living in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin have the biggest cause for concern. The disease is typically transmitted by deer ticks.

One of the biggest problems with Lyme disease is that outward symptoms are not often seen until it’s too late. It’s important to know what you’re looking for so that you can get your feline friend the treatment she needs before the disease turns fatal.

cat tick lyme disease

©istockphoto/krblokhin

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of Lyme disease are not always obvious. Many cats never exhibit symptoms at all.

One of the predominant signs of the disease in cats is lameness. Lyme disease causes an inflammation of the joints that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a cat to use its limbs. This typically presents as acute lameness, or “shifting-leg lameness, wherein the cat will experience lameness in one leg for three to four days, then shift to the other leg for another few days. The inflammation can cause pain in the limbs but is treatable with antibiotics.

Cats also develop kidney problems when contracting Lyme disease. Left untreated, it can result in total kidney failure.

Other symptoms include:

  • Stiffness
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
cat tick lyme disease

©istockphoto/supaneesukanakintr

How can I treat Lyme Disease in my cat?

Lyme disease is diagnosed through a series of laboratory tests and blood analysis. When caught early it is easily treated with antibiotics. Many patients see an improvement or dissipation of symptoms within three to five days of beginning antibiotics, with total eradication within four weeks after beginning treatment. However, more severe cases can leave lasting effects, including long-term joint pain even after the bacteria has been removed for the cat’s system.

How can I prevent Lyme Disease in my cat?

The key to preventing Lyme disease in your cat is tick control. Ticks can attach themselves to most animals, including humans, so even indoor cats aren’t completely safe. When returning from spending time outdoors, it’s important to do a self-check for any ticks you might have brought into the home. You’ll also want to do regular checks of your cat’s skin during grooming to ensure there are no pesky critters attached. If your cat spends time outdoors, be sure to check daily as a tick can transmit Lyme disease in less than 24 hours after attaching to an animal’s skin.

Using flea and tick products is also a good way to help prevent the spread of tick-borne diseases. Speak with your veterinarian about putting your cat on a safe product to prevent the disease. At this time there is no commonly used vaccination for Lyme disease for cats.

Your veterinarian can offer excellent solutions to help with the prevention and treatment of Lyme disease. Set up an appointment as soon as possible if you believe your cat might be at risk.

Meet the Author: Ben Kerns

Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible. This stuff gets expensive.

The Importance of Protecting Your Pup from Lyme Disease