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Lyme Disease and More in Cats

Protecting your cat from ticks is an important part of disease prevention. In fact, there are several diseases that can be transmitted to your pet from a tick bite. Some of the most common tick-borne diseases seen in the United States include Lyme diseasetularemia, and tick paralysis. Here we will briefly discuss these, and some of other tick-borne diseases, that affect and cats.

1. Lyme Disease

Also called borreliosis, Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks carry these bacteria, transmitting them to the animal while sucking its blood. The tick must be attached to the cat for about 48 hours in order to transmit the bacteria to the animal’s bloodstream. If the tick is removed before this, transmission will usually not occur. Common signs of Lyme disease include lameness, fever, swollen lymph nodes and joints, and a reduced appetite. In severe cases, animals may develop kidney disease, heart conditions, or nervous system disorders. Oral antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. There is, however, currently no Lyme disease vaccine for cats.


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2. Haemobartonellosis

Transmitted by both ticks and fleas, haemobartonellosis is caused by an organism that targets red blood cells in the affected animal, leading to anemia and weakness. This condition affects both dogs and cats. In cats, the condition is also known as feline infectious anemia. Treatment with antibiotics must be given for several weeks, and in some animals transfusions may be necessary.

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3. Tularemia

Also known as rabbit fever, tularemia is caused by a bacteria carried by four varieties of ticks in North America (though fleas may also transmit the disease). Cats are usually more affected by this condition than dogs. Symptoms in dogs are reduced appetite, depression, and a mild fever. Cats will exhibit high fever, swollen lymph nodes, nasal discharge, and possibly abscesses at the site of the tick bite. Antibiotics are given to treat tularemia, for which there no preventive vaccine. Keeping pets indoors and using flea and tick control measures will help protect your pet from acquiring tularemia.

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4. Babesiosis (Piroplasmosis)

Protozoa, those tiny single celled animal-like organisms, are to blame when dogs and cats are diagnosed with babesiosis. Ticks transmit the protozoan organism to animals and it sets itself up in the red blood cells, causing anemia. Signs of babesiosis may be severe, including pale gums, depression, dark-colored urine, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. In severe cases, the cat may collapse suddenly and go into shock. Currently, no vaccine is available for protection from babesiosis, which is usually reported in the southern U.S.

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5. Cytauxzoonosis

Cytauxzoonosis is a tick-borne disease found in cats; it is more commonly reported in the south central and southeast U.S. Cats with cytauxzoonosis may develop anemia, depression, high fever, difficulty breathing, and jaundice (i.e. yellowing of the skin). Treatment is often unsuccessful, and death can occur in as short as one week following infection. Immediate and aggressive treatment with specialized drugs, intravenous fluids, and supportive care are typically necessary. Cats that recover from cytauxzoonosis may be carriers of the disease for life. There is currently no vaccine for this disease, so tick prevention is important.

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