Can Cats Get Lyme Disease?

Clare Deming
pair of ticks

Lyme disease is carried by ticks and is a common disease of humans and dogs. However, while our feline friends can certainly fall victim to tick bites, there is no current evidence cats get sick with Lyme disease.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by certain ticks. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Ixodes scapularis is the tick that carries Lyme disease in the northeastern and north-central United States, while in the western part of the county, Ixodes pacificus is the carrier.

Lyme disease is transmitted when a tick attaches to the skin and feeds for a certain amount of time. This requires at least 36 hours in people. In humans and dogs, Lyme disease can cause symptoms such as:

  • A bullseye rash
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Neurologic effects

What About Cats?

Cats can be bitten by the same ticks that carry Lyme disease. The Ixodes ticks are small and are not easily noticed. Cats can even become infected with the Borrelia bacteria and can test positive on certain tests for Lyme disease. However, there is no conclusive evidence cats suffer any illness from this. They seem to have a natural resistance to this type of bacteria.

Researchers have even tried to infect cats with Borrelia in an experimental setting and have not been able to produce any relevant symptoms. Many other diseases of cats can have similar symptoms to Lyme disease in other species, which can be misleading.

Reports of Lyme Disease in Cats

Some people think they have seen cats with Lyme disease. However, the Borrelia bacteria is tough to grow, so it is hard to prove an infection. Some cats with fevers have been treated with doxycycline, the antibiotic most commonly used to treat Lyme disease. In many cases, these cats recover from their illness. However, cats often have other bacterial infections that respond well to this antibiotic. Alternatively, viral infections usually get better once they have run their course, making it seem like the antibiotics worked well.

Doxycycline can help joint pain and inflammation from other causes. This medication has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. In cats, doxycycline can cause damage to the esophagus and has to be given orally in a liquid form, followed by a syringe of water. Many cats don't cooperate well for this. Treatment with doxycycline in cats has to be carefully considered by your veterinarian.

What Else Could It Be?

While cats do not appear to suffer from Lyme disease, other diseases that may look like Lyme disease in cats include:

What About Ticks?

While your cat won't come down with Lyme disease from a tick bite, there are other infections that can be caught from ticks. These include anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. The best way to prevent these diseases is by keeping ticks off your cat. Keeping cats indoors will keep ticks from having access to your pets.

For those cats that go outside, speak to your vet about using a product that prevents flea and tick attachment. These include Frontline, a topically applied product, or Seresto collars. A regular flea collar will not protect against ticks. Also, make sure any products you use on your cat are labeled for cats, and not dogs. Dog products can be too strong for a cat and can be toxic.

Lyme disease is a scary topic and a dangerous disease. Fortunately, you don't need to worry about it when it comes to your cat.

Can Cats Get Lyme Disease?