Veterinarians have known for years that dogs get full-blown Lyme at least as often as humans do, and are well aware of the canine Lyme Disease symptoms they need to look for. Cats are a horse of different color (so to speak). Until recently, most vets didn’t take the possibility of feline Lyme Disease seriously.
But recent discoveries (partly driven by sharp-eyed human sufferers of the disease) have opened their eyes to the reality of Lyme Disease in cats, and vets have developed the appropriate diagnostic and treatment protocols. Let’s take a look at those.
The Basic Symptomology
Sometimes, Lyme Disease seems like a plague intended to strike at the heart of humanity. Not only does it infect human beings, it also strikes our most beloved companion animals: dogs and cats. And interestingly, the symptoms are quite similar in all three species.
Lyme arthritis is a huge problem in cats, causing lameness and often becoming so acute that even picking up an affected cat causes excruciating pain. If your cat suffers from unexplained joint pain and swelling, consider the possibility of Lyme.
There are blood tests that can confirm such a diagnosis, so don’t hesitate to ask your vet to conduct one, especially if you live in an area where LD is common in any form. Vets tend to be more willing to do Lyme tests on animals than medical doctors are to do them on humans.
As in dogs and (to some extent) humans, cats infected with LD may also present with swollen lymph nodes, fever, and lethargy, as well as loss of appetite and dehydration. A common symptom they share with dogs is unexplained kidney disease or failure.
It’s harder to recognize neurological insults in cats than in humans or even dogs, since humans can directly communicate confusion, and loss of cognitive ability (to do tricks, for example) is more easily observable in dogs. However, loss of motor skills not caused by arthritis may also indicate neurological damage.
What’s more, feline LD can cause heart problems, and breathing may become labored or odd-sounding in affected cats. Many cats also develop severe eye infections when the Borrelia spirochetes infect the vitreous and aqueous humors, as well as the corneas.
Causes and Prevention
Deer ticks cause LD in cats, just as they do in humans and dogs. There may be other potential vectors of the illness, but thus far the research remains limited on that front. Clearly, outdoor cats can easily pick up infected ticks from the great outdoors.
Needless to say, you should remove any ticks you find on your cat as soon as possible; infection can occur very rapidly. A good way to avoid tick bites altogether is to apply a topical flea and tick killer like Frontline. A good flea and tick collar can’t hurt, either; nor can regular baths with tick shampoo.
Finally, there are LD vaccinations for cats, just as there are for dogs. We recommend that you look into them if you live in a Lyme-ridden area.
If your cat comes down with LD anyway, realize that most feline LD infections are mild, and can easily be cured. A four-week course of doxycycline or amoxicillin, which can be added to your kitty’s food, is usually enough to kill the infection.
In some cases, more intense treatment is necessary; but be aware that there’s only so much that your vet can do if your cat has chronic Lyme. So it’s best to move as quickly as you can if your cat begins showing obvious Lyme Disease symptoms.