Diseases Spread to Cats by Ticks

Posted by Dr. Roth on

Diseases spread to cats by ticks

Cats love the great outdoors. Pet parents often see their cats lying in yards enjoying the sun. However, the great outdoors is also home to many parasites — including ticks. 

Ticks are external parasites that feed on blood. These parasites like to lurk in shady, damp areas, making cats looking for some shade the perfect targets. Indoor cats can also get ticks brought inside on a pet parent's shoes or from other animals in the home. 

Diseases spread to cats by ticks can be fatal. If a pet parent notices a tick on their cat, they should safely remove it and watch for clinical signs of the following illnesses spread to cats by ticks. 

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease can affect most domestic animals and their pet parents. This disease is caused by bacteria most commonly spread by black-legged ticks. The tick is a carrier of the bacteria, and when they bite their prey, they transfer the bacteria. 

The transfer usually takes one to two days, so finding and removing the tick quickly is vital for preventing the cat from contracting the disease. 

Diagnosing Lyme Disease in Cats 

It can take several weeks after transmission for clinical signs of Lyme disease to appear. Pet parents should take their cat to the vet if they notice any of these clinical signs after a tick has bitten their cat:

  • Lameness
  • No appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Breathing difficulties

A vet will do blood tests to diagnose the disease, which can be very painful and fatal if not treated. 

Treatment for Lyme Disease in Cats

Vets will prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bacteria causing Lyme disease. In addition, the vet may also prescribe various other treatments and medications to help treat the clinical signs. It can take several rounds of antibiotics before the cat shows any significant improvement. 

Some cats never fully recover from the disease and may need to be on medications permanently. 


Anaplasmosis is another disease carried by ticks. This disease is most commonly transmitted to dogs; however, cats can get it too. The tick will need to be attached to the cat for about 24 hours to transmit the disease. Once transmitted, it can take several weeks for clinical signs to appear.

Diagnosing Anaplasmosis in Cats

Clinical signs for this disease include:

  • Joint stiffness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Bloody nose and/or stool
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

The vet will need to do blood work that includes a complete blood count (CBC) to diagnose the condition. This disease attacks the cat's blood cells. Blood work showing the cat has low red and white blood cells is a good indication the cat has the disease. 

In some cases, the vet may be able to see the organism by using a microscope to look at a blood sample. 

Treatment for Anaplasmosis in Cats

Treatment for Anaplasmosis includes antibiotics for several weeks. If the cat has severe anemia, they may need a blood transfusion. Thankfully, most cats feel better after a few days and make a full recovery after a few weeks. 

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever 

Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be spread by several species of ticks, but the most notorious spreader of this disease is the American dog tick. Cats that contract this disease can have acute and chronic clinical signs. 

Diagnosing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Cats

This disease is much more common in dogs; however, vets are beginning to see more cat cases. This disease tends to cause blood vessel inflammation and causes the following clinical signs:

  • Joint stiffness
  • Bleeding from the mouth 
  • Bruising
  • Neurologic conditions

The vet will need to do blood work to help diagnose the disease.

Treatment for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Cats

Once the cat has been diagnosed, they will be prescribed a month of antibiotics. Some cats may need an anti-inflammatory to reduce the inflammation in their blood vessels. Thankfully, most cats make a full recovery.

Tick Paralysis

Tick paralysis is not a disease carried by ticks. Instead, it is a toxin some species of female ticks inject into their victims. This condition is most commonly seen in parts of Australia. However, cases in the U.S. are on the rise. 

Diagnosing Tick Paralysis

Tick paralysis attacks a cat’s nervous system and can take a week for clinical signs to appear. Clinical signs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Muscle loss
  • Difficulty walking
  • Inability to eat
  • Labored breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pupil dilation
  • Asphyxia

There is no definitive test for tick paralysis, veterinarians rely on clinical signs to make a diagnosis. 

Tick Prevention for Cats

Tick diseases in cats can be painful. The best way for pet parents to protect their cats is by using monthly flea and tick preventatives for cats. A preventative may not stop a tick from biting a cat, but it can kill the tick before it transmits any diseases. 

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