Can Cats Get Lyme Disease?

By Ashley Gallagher, DVM on Jan. 21, 2016

Lyme disease was first reported in the late 1970s and despite intense research over the last several decades there is still much that is not understood about this disease.  We know it can cause significant disease in people and dogs but that doesn’t necessarily hold true for cats.  To date there have been no reports of natural disease occurring in cats. Experimentally cats can be infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that cause Lyme disease and develop joint pain and neurologic disease but this has not been documented outside of a laboratory setting.

Since Lyme disease is so prevalent among dogs it is important to know the clinical signs associated with infection such as fever, lethargy, painful joints and very rarely acute kidney failure.  Although many dogs test positive for Lyme disease on yearly screening bloodwork only an estimated 5-10% develop these clinical signs.  What is important to keep in mind with respect to cats and Lyme disease is that even though they may not show these classic signs if you are not using tick prevention on your cats they can easily become infested with deer ticks, bringing these disease carriers into your home. 

Additionally there are other parasitic diseases transmitted by fleas and tick that cats should be protected against with a monthly flea and tick preventive.  Cytauxzoonosis is a parasitic disease transmitted by ticks and can rapidly cause severe illness and death even with aggressive treatment.  Tularemia is another tick borne disease affecting cats and dogs that can also infect people.  Fleas spread several potentially life-threatening diseases such as Mycoplasma, Bartonella, typhus and the plague. 

The best way to protect your cat from these diseases is to keep them indoors and every month, year round, apply a preventive to kill fleas and ticks that hitch a ride inside on you or your dog.  Cats are fastidious groomers and will usually remove any insects before you will see them creeping around.  Don’t assume just because you don’t see any fleas on your cat that they aren’t a problem.  As with most medicine, prevention is the key to protecting your cat and eliminating several nasty parasitic diseases.

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Ashley Gallagher, DVM


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