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Lyme in cats: rare, but can be serious

Lyme is uncommon in cats and they are less likely than dogs to show any symptoms.

JEFFERSON, MAINE, Maine — Lyme disease, which is spread by spread by deer ticks, affects not only people but also our four-legged friends.  Lyme is rarely found in cats and they are less likely than dogs to show any symptoms.

Tina White runs a retail nursery with more than 100 varieties of daylilies. When she's out among the flowers, 'Fluffy' is always close by. Fluffy is a 14-year old Maine coon cat. After bringing her home from the shelter, Tina trained fluffy to go outdoors. 

Then, after Fluffy was outside on a warm day last October, Tina found several embedded ticks. When she's out among the flowers, 'fluffy' is always close by. Fluffy is a 14-year old Maine coon cat. After bringing her home from the shelter, Tina trained Fluffy to go outdoors. Then, after Fluffy was outside on a warm day last October, Tina found several embedded ticks. 

"I didn't think too much of it because we had been told cats don't get Lyme disease," White said.

Within days Fluffy had a fever, no energy, and stopped eating. Their vet treated her for an upper respiratory infection but she continued to go downhill. So she underwent a test for Lyme which—to everyone's surprise—came back positive.

Dr. Julia Lucas, a veterinarian and pathologist who practices at the Cumberland Animal Clinic, says cats are generally not considered at risk for Lyme because they are highly resistant to infections, but there are rare exceptions.  

"We know that specific cats with certain immune system challenges might be vulnerable, this not typical or normal," Dr. Lucas said.

Experts say the signs to look out for are fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, and stiffness and swelling in muscles and joints. If treated promptly cats have a good chance at a full recovery.

If your cat spends any time outdoors, vets recommend using a topical preventative for cats to target not only fleas but ticks and parasites, or an oral prescription depending on what your vet says.

Fluffy recovered after being on an antibiotic, doxycycline for thirty days. Tina also makes sure that her beloved cat is on a topical preventative throughout the tick season. 

Find out more information about cats and Lyme disease from Cornell University School of Medicine here.

For information on how to prevent ticks on your pets from the Centers for Disease Control, click here.