Can Cats Have Lyme Disease

icon June 25, 2024

Lyme disease is a well-known tick-borne illness that affects many animals, including humans and dogs. However, the question of whether cats can contract Lyme disease often arises among cat owners. This article explores whether cats can have Lyme disease, the symptoms to watch for, the potential fatality of the disease, treatment options, and the role of fleas in the transmission of Lyme disease.

Can Cats Have Lyme Disease

Can Cats Have Lyme Disease?

Yes, cats can contract Lyme disease, although it is relatively rare compared to dogs and humans. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium 'Borrelia burgdorferi', which is transmitted through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, commonly known as deer ticks. Cats can become infected if bitten by an infected tick, but they appear to be more resistant to the disease than other species.


The primary vector for Lyme disease is the black-legged tick ('Ixodes scapularis' in the eastern United States and 'Ixodes pacificus' in the western United States). These ticks are most active in the spring, summer, and early fall, although they can also be active during mild winter days. The ticks must be attached for at least 36-48 hours to transmit the bacterium to the host.

Incidence in Cats

While cats can become infected with 'Borrelia burgdorferi', clinical Lyme disease is uncommon in cats. This means that even if a cat is exposed to the bacterium, it may not develop symptoms. This resistance to clinical disease might be due to differences in immune responses between cats and other species.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Cats

Identifying Lyme disease in cats can be challenging due to the non-specific nature of the symptoms and the relative rarity of the disease in this species. However, some signs can indicate a potential infection.

♦ Common Symptoms

1. Lethargy:
Affected cats may appear unusually tired and have a lack of energy.

2. Lameness:
One of the hallmark symptoms of Lyme disease is intermittent lameness, which can shift from one leg to another.

3. Joint Pain and Swelling:
Inflammation of the joints can cause pain and swelling, leading to difficulty in movement.

4. Fever:
An elevated body temperature can be a sign of infection.

5. Loss of Appetite:
Infected cats may show a decreased interest in food.

♦ Other Possible Symptoms

Behavioral Changes:
Some cats may exhibit changes in behavior, such as increased irritability or reluctance to move.

Neurological Signs:
In rare cases, Lyme disease can cause neurological symptoms, such as seizures or changes in gait.

Kidney Issues:
Although rare, some cats can develop kidney problems as a complication of Lyme disease.


Diagnosing Lyme disease in cats involves a combination of clinical examination, history of tick exposure, and laboratory tests. Blood tests can detect antibodies against *Borrelia burgdorferi*, indicating exposure to the bacterium. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests can identify the presence of bacterial DNA in the cat's blood.

Is Lyme Disease Fatal?

Lyme disease is generally not fatal in cats, especially when diagnosed and treated promptly. However, if left untreated, it can lead to serious complications that can significantly impact a cat's quality of life.

Potential Complications

Chronic Joint Pain:
Persistent infection can lead to ongoing inflammation and pain in the joints, causing chronic lameness.

Kidney Damage:
Although uncommon, Lyme disease can cause a severe form of kidney inflammation known as Lyme nephritis, which can be life-threatening.

Neurological Issues:
Rarely, the disease can affect the nervous system, leading to neurological symptoms that can be challenging to treat.


The prognosis for cats with Lyme disease is generally good if they receive timely and appropriate treatment. Most cats respond well to antibiotic therapy and can recover fully without long-term consequences. However, the prognosis may be guarded if complications such as Lyme nephritis develop.

Lyme Disease in Cats Treatment

Effective treatment of Lyme disease in cats involves a combination of antibiotics and supportive care. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for a successful outcome.

Antibiotic Therapy

  • Doxycycline: This antibiotic is the most commonly used and is usually effective in treating Lyme disease in cats. The typical course of treatment lasts for 4 weeks, but the duration may vary depending on the severity of the infection.
  • Amoxicillin: Another antibiotic option that can be used, especially if doxycycline is not well-tolerated by the cat.
  • Azithromycin: Sometimes used as an alternative or in combination with other antibiotics.

Supportive Care

  • Pain Relief: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed to manage pain and inflammation in the joints.
  • Nutritional Support: Ensuring the cat maintains a healthy diet and stays hydrated is important for recovery.
  • Rest: Limiting physical activity to prevent further strain on affected joints can help in the healing process.

Monitoring and Follow-Up

Regular follow-up appointments with the veterinarian are necessary to monitor the cat's response to treatment and adjust the medication if needed. Blood tests may be repeated to ensure the infection is resolved.

Preventive Measures

Preventing tick bites is crucial in reducing the risk of Lyme disease. Some preventive measures include:

1. Tick Control Products:
Use veterinarian-approved tick preventatives, such as spot-on treatments, collars, or oral medications.

2. Tick Checks:
Regularly check your cat for ticks, especially if they spend time outdoors in tick-infested areas.

3. Environmental Control:
Keep the yard free of tall grass and brush, and use tick control products in the environment if necessary.

Do Fleas Carry Lyme Disease?

No, fleas do not carry Lyme disease. The primary vector for Lyme disease is the black-legged tick. However, fleas can carry other diseases and parasites that can affect cats, such as Bartonella (the bacterium responsible for cat scratch fever) and tapeworms.

Fleas vs. Ticks

  • Fleas: These small, wingless insects feed on the blood of animals and can transmit various diseases and parasites. They are not known to transmit Lyme disease.
  • Ticks: Ticks are arachnids that attach to their hosts and feed on their blood. Certain species, particularly black-legged ticks, are responsible for transmitting Lyme disease.

Flea Prevention

Even though fleas do not transmit Lyme disease, they can cause significant discomfort and health issues for cats. Effective flea prevention includes:

  • Regular Use of Flea Preventatives: Use veterinarian-recommended flea control products consistently.
  • Environmental Control: Vacuum regularly and wash bedding to remove flea eggs and larvae.
  • Flea Combing: Regularly comb your cat with a flea comb to check for and remove any fleas.


While cats can contract Lyme disease, it is relatively rare compared to other species like dogs and humans. Understanding the symptoms, risks, and treatment options is crucial for cat owners to ensure the health and well-being of their pets. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment with antibiotics can lead to a full recovery, and preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of tick bites.

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