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Cats and Lyme disease

Lyme disease is in the news all spring and summer. It is probably the most common tick transmitted disease worldwide. It is caused by a bacteria transmitted through a tick bite. It can affect humans and animals, and is often associated with deer. Lyme disease is not common throughout the entire US. In fact, it is almost exclusively found in these thirteen states in the Northeast and upper Midwest: Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Virginia.

The Western, black legged tick is one Lyme disease carrying species.

Whether in pets or humans, Lyme disease commonly affects joints, causing inflammation and pain. If left untreated it can damage kidney function, the nervous system, and sometimes heart function. While Lyme disease is infrequent in cats, pet owners should be aware that ticks that could spread the disease often lurk in grassy, weedy areas, the prime hunting territory of outdoor cats.

The borrelia bacteria that causes Lyme disease is carried by hard shelled, slow feeding ticks. The transmission of the bacteria usually occurs only after the tick has been attached to the cat for a minimum of 12-18 hours or more. Some research indicates a 24-48 hour period is needed for transmission.

If you notice a tick on your cat when it comes, in, remove it only if it has not attached itself to the cat’s skin. Use tweezers, not your fingers. Sterilize the tweezers with alcohol after use. Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet. If the tick has attached to the cat’s skin, call your vet immediately and have the tick professionally removed. Veterinary professionals can then check the cat thoroughly for any signs of additional bite marks or possible symptoms. If the tick is removed quickly, the cat is unlikely to have been infected.

Common symptoms of Lyme disease in cats include a stiff walk with an arched back, sensitivity to your touch, breathing difficulty, changes in appetite, fever, and swelling or a lump at the bite site. Any of these symptoms by itself does not necessarily indicate Lyme disease, but a cat showing any distress should be examined by your vet to diagnose the problem.

If your vet suspects the cat may have Lyme disease, diagnostic tests can help determine this. They include a complete blood analysis and also a urinalysis. Veterinarians will look for fungi, parasites, bacteria, and other toxins in the cat’s blood. X rays and joint fluid analysis may also be needed to determine the seriousness of the disease. Your vet will need a complete health history for the cat, too, so an accurate diagnosis is possible.

Treatment of Lyme disease is done with antibiotics. Cats usually show rapid improvement once treated, but some may need longer courses of treatment, or repeated treatment if there are secondary issues, such as kidney involvement. Sometimes additional medications are also needed.

To prevent Lyme disease and other illnesses, cats should be kept indoors. This greatly reduces the chances that they will be infected with most diseases and problems, but does not guarantee it. As an example, fleas and flea eggs can come in on shoes, bags, sports equipment, or anything touching the ground. Check your cat regularly for any signs or symptoms of any problems.

If you have an outdoor cat, keep your property mowed, free of tall grass, weeds, etc. and treat your cat regularly with a high quality flea/tick product. Ask your vet for a recommendation that is right for your specific cat.

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