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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Cats

By Otto M. Radostits, CM, DVM, MSc, DACVIM (Deceased), Professor Emeritus, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan ; Max J. Appel, DMV, PhD, Professor Emeritus ; David A. Ashford, DVM, MPH, DSc, Assistant Area Director, International Services, APHIS, USDA ; Stephen C. Barr, BVSc, MVS, PhD, DACVIM, Professor of Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University ; J. P. Dubey, MVSc, PhD, Microbiologist, Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA ; Paul Ettestad, DVM, MS, State Public Health Veterinarian, Epidemiology and Response Division, New Mexico Department of Health ; Craig E. Greene, DVM, MS, Professor, Department of Small Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia ; Delores E. Hill, PhD, Parasitologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture ; Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD, Small Animal Consultant ; Eugene D. Janzen, DVM, MVS, Professor, Production Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary ; Jodie Low Choy, BVSc, BVMS, IVAS Cert, Menzies School of Health Research; University Avenue Veterinary Hospital, Northern Territory, Australia ; Dennis W. Macy, MS, DACVIM, Professor of Medicine and Oncology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences,Colorado State University ; Dudley L. McCaw, DVM, DACVIM (Small Animal, Oncology), Professor, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University ; Barton W. Rohrbach, VMD, MPH, DACVPM, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Medicine, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, University of Tennessee ; J. Glenn Songer, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology, University of Arizona ; Richard A. Squires, BVSc (Hons), PhD, DVR, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, GCertEd, MRCVS, Head of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, James Cook University ; Bert E. Stromberg, PhD, Professor, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota ; Joseph Taboada, DVM, DACVIM, Professor and Associate Dean, Office of Student and Academic Affairs, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University ; Charles O. Thoen, DVM, PhD, Professor, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University ; John F. Timoney, MVB, PhD, Dsc, MRCVS, Keeneland Chair of Infectious Diseases, Gluck Equine Research Center, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Kentucky ; Ian Tizard, BVMS, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Immunology; Director, Richard M. Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

Also see professional content regarding lyme borreliosis.

Lyme disease, which is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted through the bite of a tick, affects domestic animals and humans. At least 3 known species of ticks can transmit Lyme disease. However, the great majority of Lyme disease transmissions are due to the bite of a very tiny tick commonly called the deer tick, or black-legged tick. The scientific name of the tick species involved on the west coast of the US is Ixodes pacificus; Ixodes scapularis is the species involved elsewhere. It is important to note that ticks do not cause Lyme disease, they merely transmit the bacteria that cause it.

Lyme disease occurs much more frequently in dogs than in cats. When infected, cats may show lameness, fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, or difficulty breathing. Many cats do not show noticeable signs, despite being infected. Antibiotics are required for treatment in all cases of Lyme disease. Rapid response is seen in limb and joint disease in most cases, although the signs do not completely resolve in a significant number of affected animals. The infection may persist in spite of antibiotic treatment (see Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Dogs).

Tick avoidance plays a role in disease control. While highly effective products (such as sprays and monthly “spot-on” products) are available for use, they must be used consistently in order to provide effective longterm tick control. Your veterinarian can recommend a product that is appropriate for your cat.