Lyme Disease and Cats – Borrelia burgdorferi

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease that is caused by a cork-screw shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease is usually carried by the Ixodes variety of ticks which are usually found in wooded and grassy areas. This disease can affect humans, cats, dogs, and other animals.

How Do Cats Get Lyme Disease?

Outdoor cats that spend a large majority of their time outside are most likely to be susceptible to lyme disease because they can get ticks. The ticks, parasites by nature, hide in the bushes and high grass waiting for an opportunity to jump on a cat host to feed on. When they have found their victim, they crawl to the cat’s skin and use their mouthparts, which are specially designed to extract fluid, to suck blood from the host. The cat’s blood is their meal. The ticks suck as much blood from the host as their body will permit and then fall off back into the grass to wait for the next feeding opportunity. If the tick is carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, then the cat most likely will contract the disease by the time the engorged tick falls back off. Cats that are not protected with a flea and tick medication will get bitten over and over, and their chances of getting bitten by an infected tick are increased.

How Frequently Does it Occur?

Many people believe that the prevalence of this disease in the United States is overexaggerated. Other say that most cases are underreported. During the period from 1980 to 2008 there were approximately 308,000 cases in humans, but there are no solid statistics on the occurence of the disease in cats. Also, some cats are misdiagnosed with because of symptoms that are similar to other medical conditions. Cases are highly concentrated in the Northeast United States since the tick that usually carries the disease, Ixodes scapularis, is prevalent in this area.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Symptoms of this disease caused by ticks usually do not occur until one or two weeks after being bitten. Sometimes symptoms won’t show up until a month later. These symptoms include but are not limited to: fever, “flu-like” symptoms, rash, inflammation of the heart, inflammation of nerves, painful or stiff muscles and joints, fatigue, loss of appetite, and even sudden collapse. Some cats have been reported to be “zombie-like” after contracting the disease – they walk around as if they are in a daze.

Some cats may become permanently lame from the disease, meaning they have trouble walking or cannot walk at all. Any trouble walking in your pet should immediately be brought to the attention of your vet so that they can determine whether your cat has the condition by taking a blood test.


Again, the moment you believe something is wrong with your cat, you should take him to the vet to be treated. Be sure to explain to the vet that your cat was bitten by a tick, and that it is frequently exposed to the outdoors. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics like amoxicillin, tetracycline, and doxycycline, all medications that can be prescribed by your veterinarian.

How to Prevent Your Cat From Getting Infected

After jumping on your cat, ticks do not start transmitting the disease to the cat until about 10 or 12 hours. This is why it is important to check your cat when it comes inside after running around outdoors in high grass and the woods. If you check your cat thoroughly you may find a tick (or more than one) which should be promptly removed with tweezers. Ticks are just like any other bug, and they don’t jump like fleas, so once you pull one off of your cat just put it in a napkin and kill it with bug spray or by crushing it. When removing the tick from your cat’s skin, use a twisting motion. Experts don’t recommend snatching the tick off because the mouthparts it uses for sucking blood could be left behind and cause a bad abscess or rash. It is not recommended that you use alcohol or petroleum jelly to loosen a tick, as some people do, because it can cause the tick to regurgitate and leave bacteria-containing saliva in the open wound on your cat. Finally, don’t just throw the tick in the garbage because it can easily crawl out and jump right back on your cat. Remember that ticks can bite and transmit the disease to humans also.

There are several expensive but mostly effective products on the market that will protect your pet from the disease by making their skin toxic to ticks. With a product like Revolution, you just place the solution on your cat’s neck and allow it to distribute throughout the skin. If a tick jumps on your cat while he is roaming around outside, that tick will quickly die; usually before the 10 hours it usually takes a tick to start transmitting the disease to its host.

Want another simple way to prevent lyme disease? Keep your cat indoors! Outdoor cats have been proven to have shorter life spans than those that are kept indoors at all times. This is largely in part to medical complications that are caused by pet owners letting their cats spend too much time outdoors with other random and feral cats. If you value your cat, you will not let him or her roam outside and be a target for ticks, fleas, and wild animals. If your cat absolutely loves it outside and you can’t bear to deprive him or her of that experience, go outside with your pet so that you can make sure he or she doesn’t wander into the woods or tall grassy areas.



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