Lyme disease is rare in cats. This infectious bacterial disease can infect humans through a tick bite. You cannot contract the disease from your cat.
You should remove a tick as soon as you see it, as the longer it stays attached, the greater the risk of disease transmission. Signs of this disease only appear a few months after the tick bite. If you see a tick on your cat, make sure to report it to your vet.
What is Lyme disease in cats?
- Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi.
- This disease is rare in cats.
- The prevalence of ticks on cats in the UK is relatively low (6.6%).
- Cats can catch this bacteria when bitten by an infected tick.
- It can affect joints, kidneys, and, less commonly, the nervous system.
- After being bitten by an infected tick, the majority of cats do not develop Lyme disease.
- Transmission of the bacteria takes time, it may only occur after 12 to 48 hours of tick attachment.
- Some cats exposed to this bacteria may not show signs of illness.
- It usually takes 2 to 5 months after the bite for symptoms to appear.
- Keep a note of when you see a tick on your cat so you can tell your vet if they get sick in the future.
Symptoms of Lyme disease in cats
Cats with Lyme disease tend to show vague symptoms that come and go and differ from one to the next. Symptoms include:
- Limping and/or stiff gait (walking pattern)
- Weakness (lethargy)
- Reduced appetite
- Difficulty breathing
Cats at higher risk of Lyme disease
The risk of catching Lyme disease is higher:
- For cats that spend more time outdoors in woodlands and moorland areas.
- If your cat lives in or travels to a high-risk area in the UK or abroad. See the UK map of endemic areas here.
As a result of climate change, the UK’s tick population is increasing.
Other diseases that can be transmitted by ticks, such as Babesiosis, may start to appear in our pets too.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed in cats?
Diagnosing this disease is very challenging because:
- The symptoms seen in this condition are not very specific and are similar to other diseases.
- There may be several months between the tick bite and the onset of the disease.
- Diagnostic tests available for this disease are challenging.
Your vet may make a diagnosis based on:
- Your cat’s symptoms and history of tick exposure.
- In-clinic blood test kits to look for antibodies. This test detects antibodies produced by exposure to bacteria. It takes time for the body to create antibodies, we usually wait around 4 weeks after the tick bite to perform this test.
- Other blood tests to confirm infection or monitor treatment:
- Lyme quantitative C6: this test can be used to further investigate a positive in-clinic blood test or evaluate your cat after treatment.
- Borrelia PCR: this test is sometimes performed on blood or biopsy samples from affected tissues or joint fluid and identifies DNA from the bacteria that causes this disease.
To rule out other medical conditions, your vet may need to perform:
- Other blood tests
- Urine tests
- Radiographs (x-rays)
- Ultrasound scans
How do vets treat Lyme disease in cats?
Your cat will need:
- A long course of antibiotics. Usually for 4 weeks with a combination of two or three antibiotics.
- More complicated cases may require hospitalisation to receive intravenous fluids and be closely monitored.
The sooner the disease is detected, the better the outcome.
How to help your cat with Lyme disease at home
For a sick patient to recover, love and care are essential.
- Allow them to rest: Ensure you can provide a safe, quiet place for them to sleep.
- Help them eat: Add small pieces of warm, smelly food to their meals (e.g. sardines, anchovies, tuna, chicken).
- Monitor them closely.
If you need help giving tablets to your dog, call our Joii team for help.
How to prevent Lyme disease in cats
There are a few things you can do to prevent this disease:
- Keep your cat up to date with parasite control that covers ticks.
- Monitor yourself and your cat for any ticks on the body.
- Make sure to remove the full tick from your cat including the mouth part of the tick.
- Avoid crushing the tick with your fingers.
For more information, you can also visit our article on Ticks in cats.
Tick protection products
Veterinary products are available in a variety of forms for preventing tick attachment or quickly killing them if they attach:
Examine your cat and yourself
Ticks are seen all year, but mainly between March and November.
If your cat goes outdoors, check them frequently. Ticks are most commonly seen on the head, ears, armpits, and belly, but can be found anywhere.
Ticks can also be present in gardens.
Humans can also be bitten by ticks, so check yourself.
Be more cautious when visiting abroad or high-risk areas. Check the UK map link above for more detailed information about your location.
How do you remove a tick from your cat?
- Use clean tweezers or a special tick-removing tool to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull the full tick upward. Remove the mouthpart from the skin if it breaks off.
- After removing the tick, clean the site of the tick bite with warm salt water (1 teaspoon of salt to one pint of warm water) or use an antiseptic solution.
- Dispose of the tick.
- Avoid crushing a tick with your fingers. This disease can pass through a wound or cut in your skin.
- Dispose of a live tick by:
- Putting it in alcohol
- Placing it in a sealed bag/container
- Wrapping it tightly in tape
- Flushing it down the toilet
When to worry
When to worry if your cat has Lyme disease
Call your vet if your cat:
- Was exposed to ticks and you are seeing symptoms of the disease.
- Was exposed to ticks and is showing increased drinking or urination, especially if combined with lethargy, vomiting, or reduced appetite.
- Is receiving treatment for this disease and does not improve after a few days.
Joii can help if you:
- Found a tick on your cat.
- Need help in removing and killing a tick.
- Cannot remove the remaining mouthparts easily from the skin.
- Need an antiseptic solution to clean the tick bite location.
- Want to discuss different tick products available.