Lyme disease in cats - the symptoms and treatment

Every year, a high number of pets and people get bitten by ticks – ouch! Ticks bites cause irritation and discomfort, but the real danger comes when they feed. This is when they can transmit diseases. One such nasty they can pass on is the Borrelia bacterium, which causes Lyme disease in cats, dogs and humans. Here’s what cat parents need to know to help keep our furry friends out of tick trouble.

Is Lyme disease an issue in cats?

Our feline friends are less susceptible to Lyme disease and often more able to fight it off, so while cats can get the infection, it’s rarer than it is in dogs. Cats also don’t often show signs of the illness unless they have a weakened immune system, such as kittens and elderly cats. 

However, if cats do fall ill, it’s a serious condition and can be fatal if left untreated. Worryingly, the most common type of tick found on our cats is the sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus, in case you were wondering…) and that is the main carrier of Lyme disease in the UK.


Is Lyme disease dangerous?

The earlier a cat is treated, the better the outcome, but this can be easier said than done. Lyme disease has a wide range of symptoms and cats are affected differently. Some won’t show signs of illness whereas others could be completely debilitated.  Lyme disease can affect the kidneys, heart and nervous system in some cases. 

The other thing is, cats can start displaying signs of infection up to four weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. The bacteria often remain in our pet’s skin for a long time before working their way into the body and causing signs of disease.

What are the symptoms?

One of the earliest signs pet parents report is that their cat isn’t quite themselves. Trust your instincts on this – no one knows your cat better than you. If your four-legged friend suddenly seems more tired than usual, they’re a bit under the weather, or if you have any reason to think they could have Lyme disease due to symptoms like those listed below, get them to the vets right away. There might not be a visible tick on your pet, but remember that the parasite who caused the infection could be long gone by now. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • seeming off colour
  • fever
  • lameness in one or multiple limbs
  • reluctance to eat or reduced appetite
  • swollen or enlarged lymph nodes
  • tiredness and low energy

How can I protect my cat against Lyme disease?

  • They say prevention is better than cure – and we couldn’t agree more. Here are some easy steps that pet parents can take to keep cats safe from Lyme disease.

  • Check your cat regularly for ticks
    Especially if they’ve had access to areas full of vegetation – even neat, short lawns. Pay close attention to the head, ears, neck, feet, armpits and groin where ticks are more likely to latch on and hide away.

  • Remove any ticks
    As safely and as soon as possible. Don’t squeeze, pierce or burn a tick as this increases the chance of them passing on an infection to your pet. Instead, use tweezers or a specialist tick remover tool to gently twist out the tick in one direction. Wear gloves so the tick can’t pass Lyme disease to you or another family member. Dispose of the tick in a sealed plastic bin in the outside rubbish, or send it in a sealed bag to Public Health England as part of their Tick Surveillance Scheme.

  • Vacuum regularly
    This will catch any ticks lurking about that have dropped off a person or pet.

  • Protect your pet with specialist treatment
    Not all flea treatments kill ticks, but FRONTLINE® products do. Our flea and tick treatments kill ticks within 48 hours and when they’re dead, they usually just drop off. Treating our cats regularly at the correct interval gives them the best protection.

These few simple steps can make a big difference to prevent Lyme disease infections caused by ticks. There’s a lot we can do to prevent infection, but equally if there’s any chance our precious pet is in danger, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and take them to the vet. Make sure you know the signs of illness – and remember the golden rule of pet parenting – if in doubt, check it out!

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