Lyme disease is a relatively rare condition within the UK, but one that can affect people, dogs, and cats as well. While it is uncommon to start with and even rarer in cats than in dogs, it is still a serious and complex condition that the cat owner should be aware of.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to cats and other animals via the bite of the tick, although picking up a tick will by no means always, or commonly, lead to Lyme disease in the cat.
Lyme disease presents itself in many forms, and may begin with a localised infection in the area of the body of the cat that the tick latched on to, which subsequently spreads and worsens as the bacteria that causes the disease spreads through the bloodstream. Lyme disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition, which can lead to paralysis, neurological disorders, severe headaches, heart and lung problems, and major organ failure.
Lyme disease is contracted through the bite of the tick, a common parasite that latches onto the body of a host, such as the cat, and punctures the skin to consume blood from the animal. Once the tick is sated, they then detach from the skin and drop away. Ticks themselves contract and spread the bacteria that leads to Lyme disease from feeding on mice and other smaller animals that harbour the bacteria, spreading the bacteria to their subsequent hosts.
Even if a tick is carrying the bacteria that spreads Lyme disease, this does not necessarily mean that they will pass it on to their next host, and even if they do, in most cases the host’s own immune system will fight off the bacteria before it takes a hold and begins to spread.
Ticks are commonly found in areas of long grass and sometimes, marshy areas, where they are likely to be able to find potential host animals passing through. They attach themselves to the body of the host, and require careful manual removal to avoid breaking off the head of the tick and leaving it embedded within the skin.
Lyme disease is not contagious from cat to cat, nor between cats and other animals such as dogs or people.
Lyme disease can take several weeks, or in some cases, months to develop, so the presence of the condition should not be ruled out just because you are sure that your cat has not picked up a tick in the recent past. If you have removed ticks from your cat previously, take a note of the date of removal and make yourself aware of the symptoms of Lyme disease in case they develop in the future. Remember that if your cat contracts a tick but the tick disengages and drops away before you have the chance to remove it, you may not even be aware that your cat has contracted a tick at all.
Signs and symptoms of feline Lyme disease to look out for include:
Lyme disease that is left to develop can cause serious complications such as kidney failure, and potentially affect the heart, lungs and other major organs. If this is the case, then the resultant issues will also need to be addressed, which may in themselves have serious complications and may have a significant effect upon your cat’s health and recovery.
Lyme disease infection that is identified early on in its progression and treated promptly can usually be resolved by a simple course of antibiotics, which will usually lead to a rapid improvement and fast return to good health.
The easiest way of preventing Lyme disease in the cat is to prevent them from contracting ticks in the first place. Many spot-on feline flea treatments such as Frontline Combo and Advocate are also effective against ticks, and stop the tick from latching on to the body of the cat in the first place. These spot-on treatments can also be used in the area of the tick itself if a tick has attached itself to your cat, in order to kill it and disengage it from the skin.
If your cat does pick up a tick, remove it promptly and carefully with a tool such as a tick twister (available from your vet) taking care to ensure that the whole tick is removed and the head does not remain in the skin.
If your local area is home to a tick colony or your cat is apt to pick up ticks regularly when out and about, check them over regularly to make sure that you find and remove any ticks found promptly.