Lyme disease is common in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic States but is found throughout most of the United States. Lyme disease is a tick borne disease, often transported by deer. Many animals, including both cats and humans, are susceptible to Lyme disease. Know the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease in cats and how to diagnose, prevent and treat it.
Lyme disease in a cat can be difficult to diagnose due to its vague symptoms. The physical symptoms a cat with Lyme disease may exhibit are: Lameness (walking gingerly without using one leg), laboured breathing, lethargy (neither fully awake nor asleep), collapsing or loss of consciousness and loss of appetite. Cats often wander off and sleep when they are in pain or injured, so beware of this behaviour as well.
Unlike people, cats do not develop a rash as an early symptom of Lyme disease, often delaying diagnosis. Cats with Lyme disease may have many physical symptoms including fever, swollen joints, tick or tick remnants in skin, eye problems, swollen lymph nodes and dehydration. The cat may have many or few of these symptoms at the same time. Left untreated Lyme disease can damage the heart, eyes, nervous system and cause kidney disease, failure and death.
The best way to keep your cat free of ticks is to keep it inside and away from deer ticks, the carriers of Lyme disease. Be careful not to bring ticks in with you, on your clothing or shoes, these can then get on your cat. There is currently no vaccine in the U.S. for preventing Lyme disease in cats. If your cat is bitten by a tick, remove it promptly, using care not to touch it by wearing gloves and using tweezers. Cleanse the area thoroughly with hydrogen peroxide and make an appointment to see a vet.
Other means of prevention include tick collars, tick spray and topical treatment usually applied between the shoulders with flea medicine. Some flea dips also include tick repellent. Shampoo is effective at killing ticks that may already be on your cat
Diagnosis of Symptoms
When a cat has multiple symptoms of Lyme disease, other illnesses/diseases are ruled out or a tick is found, blood tests can be preformed to confirm the disease. There are two different blood tests for diagnosis and the red blood cell count is checked. Both blood tests can give false negatives, depending on how long the cat has been infected. Even without a positive test, if symptoms are present, treatment with a prescription is used to see if symptoms are relieved
Treating a cat for Lyme disease involves a long course of antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or tetracycline. More than one treatment or antibiotic maybe needed. Homeopathic alternative treatment in addition to a prescription can be used to help improve liver function.
For dogs in the U.S., there is a vaccine for Lyme disease, but none for cats. Bioveta, a Czech Republic research company has recently developed a Lyme disease vaccine that appears effective for cats. With their research there may soon be an approved vaccine for Lyme disease prevention in humans.