Lyme Borreliosis in Cats
Although rare in cats, Lyme disease is known to be one of the most common tick-borne conditions in the world. Caused by a species of spirochete bacteria from the Borrelia Burgdorferi group, its dominant clinical feature in cats is lameness due to joint inflammation, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Some cats develop kidney disease and, rarely, heart or nervous system disease.
Lyme disease is probably not fear for cat owners. Although the bacteria that cause Lyme disease can infect cats, the disease has certainly not been seen in a cat outer of a laboratory. However, because Lyme is potentially quite severe and common in humans and dogs, it is prudent to know how the infection is transmitted and the signs of illness in your pets.
Named after the Connecticut town where it was first identified in 1975, Lyme disease is a potentially fatal infection. Without rapid treatment in humans and dogs, this bacterial infection can growth to extensive joint damage, fatal heart complications, kidney failure, and neurological dysfunction. Although the disease is most commonly diagnosed in the north-eastern US, humans have reported it in the 48 contiguous states.
Symptoms and Types
Many cats with Lyme disease do not have any symptoms. Those who do may have recurrent limb lameness due to joint inflammation. Others, meanwhile, may develop acute lameness, which remains for only three to four days but recurs days or weeks later, with lameness in the same leg or other legs. Better known as “moving leg lameness,” this condition is characterized by lameness in one leg, with a return to normal function, and then the other portion is involved; one or more joints may be swollen and hot; there is a pain response when palpating the joint; response well to antibiotic treatment.
Some cats can also develop kidney problems. If left untreated, it can lead to glomerulonephritis, which causes inflammation and accompanying dysfunction of the kidney’s glomeruli (essentially, a blood filter). Over time, total kidney failure occurs. The cat begins to show signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea, poor appetite, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and amassing of fluid in tissues, especially in the legs and under the skin.
Other symptoms associated with Lyme disease include:
- Stiff walk with arched back
- Sensitive to touch
- Complexity in breathing
- Fever, poor appetite, and depression can accompany joint inflammation.
- Superficial lymph nodes near the site of the infecting tick bite may be swollen
- Cardiac abnormalities are reported, but rare; include inclusive heart block
- Nervous system complications
Borrelia Burgdorferi, the bacteria liable for Lyme disease, is transmitted by slow-feeding, hard-shelled deer ticks. However, infection usually occurs after the Borrelia-carrying tick has attached itself to the cat for at least 18 hours.
You will need to provide a complete history of your cat’s health, including a background history of symptoms and potential incidents that could have precipitated this condition, such as areas your cat might have been in. The account you provide can give your veterinarian clues as to which organs are being secondarily affected. A complete blood profile will be done, including a total blood count, a chemical blood profile, and a urinalysis. Your vet will exploit these tests to look for the existence of bacteria, parasites, and fungi in the bloodstream. Fluid can also be removed from the affected joints for analysis.
The skin condition near the tick bite site will also be an essential indicator of your cat’s health, for example, if the wound is still open or if fragments of the tick’s body remain in the lesion.
There are numerous causes for arthritis, and your vet will focus on differentiating arthritis initiated by Lyme disease from other inflammatory arthritic disorder, such as trauma. The immune-mediated illness will also be considered a reasonable cause of the symptoms. An X-ray of the painful joints will permit your doctor to examine the bones for damage or disorders.
If the diagnosis is Lyme disease, your feline friend will be treated on an outpatient basis unless her condition is severe. There are several antibiotics to choose from. It is vital to keep your cat warm and dry, and you will need to monitor her activity until the clinical signs have improved. The recommended period of treatment is four weeks. Your vet is unlikely to recommend dietary changes. Don’t use pain relievers unless your vet has recommended them.
Although there is a vaccine available to protect dogs against Lyme disease, such a vaccine has not been developed for cats. However, a cat can protect itself to some degree during hot weather by using a cat-safe bug repellent before going outdoors. Consult your veterinarian about safe products to use, as cats are highly susceptible to many insecticides, including some all-natural products and stuff marketed for dogs.
Unfortunately, symptoms do not always resolve entirely in some animals. Long-term joint pain can continue even after the bacteria have been completely eradicated from your cat’s system.
Living and Management
The improvement of sudden (acute) joint inflammation caused by Borrelia should be seen within three to five days after antibiotic treatment. If there is no progress within three to five days, your vet will want to think about a different diagnosis.
If possible, keep away from allowing your cat to wander in tick-infested environments where Lyme borreliosis is common. In addition to brushing your cat daily and removing ticks by hand, your vet may recommend a variety of sprays, collars, and topical products to draw and repel ticks. Such products should only be used under the supervision of a veterinarian and only according to label directions.
- Mechanical tick removal: Brush your cat every day; discuss proper tick removal techniques with your veterinarian.
- Tick Attachment Prevention: Sprays and collars, tick-killing products, and tick repellents are commercially available as direct-application topical products; such development must be used only under the label’s directions.
- Control the tick population in your surroundings if your cat is restricted to small areas; may have limited success in reducing deer or rodent populations.