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Do Cat Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?

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Anyone who lives where ticks are found is knowledgeable about the risks of Lyme disease to humans. But we do not hear as much about it in connection with cats. The simple fact is, though you might wonder and worry about your cat contracting Lyme disease, it seems felines are less vulnerable to the disease than we are.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, which can be found in infected black-legged deer ticks in both the US and Canada. In the US alone, the amount of human Lyme disease cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is approximately 30,000 annually.

In humans, if the disease isn’t caught early enough and treated with antibiotics, the disease can become painful. But Lyme disease does not manifest so badly in cats, says veterinarian Dr. Meryl Littman, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia.

WHY WOULD CATS BE LESS PRONE TO LYME?

Ticks infected with Lyme disease transmit the disease by biting. The disease enters the body via the blood, and that the ticks feed on. It requires two to four days to get a tick to transmit Lyme disease to a kitty, says Dr. Littman, but because cats are fastidious groomers, it’s probable that they remove the ticks until the disease can get in their bodies.

Dr. Littman adds that it also potential cats could be naturally resistant to becoming sick from Lyme, in precisely the exact same way they’re resistant to becoming sick from leptospirosis, a disease caused by a bacteria from the exact same class which causes Lyme.

But just because cats generally don’t get ill from Lyme disease, that does not mean they do not get exposed to it. Some cats discovered with ticks, and that have symptoms like fever and lethargy, have been found to test positive for Lyme. But, testing positive only shows vulnerability, says Dr. Littman. It doesn’t demonstrate that any symptoms of illness are due to Lyme. (No particular Lyme disease test is available for cats.) Even treatment with the antibiotic doxycycline does not show the reason behind illness to be Lyme, Dr. Littman notes, because doxycycline treats a number of other types of disease and contains anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties which may assist a sick cat feel better, whether she’s Lyme or not.

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