6 Types of Tick-Borne Disease in Cats

Michael Kearley, DVM
Written by:
Published: July 18, 2022
6 Types of Tick-Borne Disease in Cats

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What Is Tick-Borne Disease in Cats?

Most people have heard of Lyme Disease, and unfortunately some may have suffered from the disease themselves. But did you know that Lyme disease can affect cats as well? Lyme Disease and many other diseases are spread through tick bites and are known as tick-borne diseases.

Ticks can be found anywhere in the United States and their bite can cause skin infections, anemia, and tick paralysis, which is a serious and life-threatening condition to cats.

Most Common Types of Tick-Borne Disease in Cats

The six most common types of tick-borne diseases in cats include:   

  • Lyme disease: A bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) spread through the bite of the black-legged (deer) tick; often found in the eastern U.S., and as far west as Texas and South Dakota.  

  • Hepatozoonosis: A protozoan that is spread through tick bites, this disease is not common in cats.

  • Tularemia: A bacterium (Francisella tularensis) transmitted from the American dog tick and Lone Star tick; often found everywhere in the U.S., except the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest. This disease is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted to people and should be reported to public officials.

  • Babesiosis (Piroplasmosis): This is a protozoan (Babesia felis) that is spread through tick bites. It has not been reported in the U.S. but is more common in Southern Africa.

  • Cytauxzoonosis: A protozoan (Cytauxzoonosis felis) transmitted from Lone Star ticks, it’s often found in the southern U.S. and as far north as Wisconsin and Maine. 

  • Anaplasmosis: A rickettsial organism (Anaplasma phagocytophilum) spread through the bite of the black-legged (deer) tick and the brown dog tick. It is most common in the eastern and southern U.S. and as far west as Texas and South Dakota.

Symptoms of Tick-Borne Disease in Cats

Tick-borne diseases are usually noticed within a few weeks after the original tick bite. Your cat may show symptoms including:

  • Fever

  • Lack of appetite

  • Joint pain and swelling, lameness, and/or trouble walking

  • Weight loss

  • Lethargy

  • Anemia (blood loss) and secondary bruising, which may be noticed as pale gums, bloody stools, and/or bloody nose

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes, or gums)

  • Large, painful, and swollen lymph nodes

  • Irritation, redness, and itching around the bite site

  • Changes in meow

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Weakness or diminished movement that usually starts in your cat’s hindlimbs and quickly moves to its forelimbs and possibly the diaphragm. This is known as tick paralysis.

Causes of Tick-Borne Disease in Cats

Of the many species of ticks, only a handful cause significant disease in cats. These include:

  • Brown dog tick

  • Black-legged (deer) tick

  • American dog tick

  • Lone Star tick

 

How Veterinarians Diagnose Tick-Borne Disease in Cats

Your veterinarian will physically examine your cat and review the type and frequency of any tick prevention medications given. He or she may also recommend:

  • Bloodwork (a complete blood cell count), urine testing, and X-rays to assess your cat’s overall health and rule out other diseases.

  • Urine protein: Creatinine ratio test to screen for any underlying kidney damage.

  • Cytology and analysis of any infected organs and/or joint fluid.

  • PCR or antibody testing to detect the organism’s DNA.

  • Analysis of the tick itself if you can pull it directly from the cat and store in a container to be examined by a veterinarian.

Treatment of Tick-Borne Disease in Cats

Treatment of a tick-borne disease in cats often entails two to four weeks of antibiotics such as doxycycline. Supportive care such as pain medications, blood transfusions, anti-inflammatories, IV fluids, and appetite stimulants may also be necessary depending on the severity of symptoms.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine approved for use in cats at this time.

Recovery and Management of Tick-Borne Disease in Cats

Prognosis for recovery depends on the disease itself and the severity of symptoms. For cats suffering from tick paralysis, the prognosis is uncertain, as problems with swallowing and breathing can develop.

Some diseases such as tularemia and cytauxzoonosis are relatively uncommon but are fatal if left untreated. Many cats that survive treatment can go on to live a relatively normal life, though they may be carriers of the disease and may need to be monitored frequently for possible sub-conditions that can develop such as Lyme nephritis (kidney disease).

Prevention of Tick-Borne Disease in Cats

Prevention truly is the best medicine when it comes to ticks. Year-round tick control options for cats include dips, sprays, topicals, tablets, and even collars. Partner with your vet to determine the one that is the most beneficial for you and your cat. Remember, you’re not only preventing diseases to your cat but also to you and your household members.

Tick-borne Disease in Cats FAQs

What diseases can cats get from ticks?

Ticks transmit many diseases to cats such as: cytauxzoonosis, tularemia, Lyme Disease, and anaplasmosis, to name a few. 

Can a tick make a cat ill?

Absolutely. In addition to the numerous diseases that can be transmitted from ticks, they can also cause skin irritation and secondary infections, anemia from blood loss, and even a life-threatening condition called tick paralysis.

What symptoms do ticks cause in cats?

The most common symptoms associated with tick bites include redness and itching at the bite site along with diseases that cause lameness, joint pain, fever, and decreased appetite.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Steevy84


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