Cats carry all types of ticks and tick-borne diseases

Did you know the cat you may be cuddling with on your couch every evening could be infected with a host of tick-borne diseases? Unlike our canine friends, cats are typically not symptomatic when it comes to such diseases. But as researchers have found, that doesn’t mean they are free from disease.

Updated: April 22, 2019

In a study by Shannon and colleagues, 160 ticks and blood samples were collected from 70 healthy cats brought to the Mid Atlantic Cat Hospital in Queenstown, Maryland. [1]

cat, tick-borne diseases, lyme diseaseThe authors found that the cats were carrying 3 species of ticks including 83 Lone Star ticks (Amblyomma americanum), 7 American dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) and 70 black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis.)

Out of the 160 ticks, 22 (13.8%) tested positive by PCR for Bartonella spp., Borrelia burgdorferi, or Borrelia miyamotoi. However, only 25 of the 70 cats were able to be fully tested.

Nine of those cats (36%) were positive for exposure to at least one of the following tick-borne pathogens: Borrelia burgdorferi, Ehrlichia ewingii, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Borrelia miyamotoi, Bartonella clarridgeiae and Bartonella henselae.

“We also found at least one cat blood sample to test positive for antibodies to each of the four tick-borne agents we screened for,” the authors state.

[bctt tweet=”Study finds 14% of ticks on cats are infected with Bartonella, B. burgdorferi or B. miyamotoi.” username=”DrDanielCameron”]

According to the authors’ review of the literature, the risk to pet owners is unclear. “Pet ownership has been implicated in vector-borne pathogen transmission and has been identified as a potential risk factor for such diseases in some studies, but not others.”

Nevertheless, screening for ticks may prove helpful, providing advanced warning of disease risk to humans “upon recognition of an uncommon or unexpected pathogen in a pet or pet-derived parasite,” Shannon concludes.

Author’s note: Keeping your cat indoors can prevent it from picking up ticks that could be passed onto you or other family members. 

  1. Shannon AB, Rucinsky R, Gaff HD, Brinkerhoff RJ. Borrelia miyamotoi, Other Vector-Borne Agents in Cat Blood and Ticks in Eastern Maryland. EcoHealth. 2017.

6 Replies to "Cats carry all types of ticks and tick-borne diseases"

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  • Joanne Drayson
    02/16/2019 (10:14 am)

    The present study indicates that veterinary practices were able to find fleas in a quarter of cats and one sixth of the dogs examined during the study period and the flea samples were found to be positive for a range of infectious agents; in particular the study highlights the relatively high prevalence of Bartonella spp., particularly in central and southern areas, which is of concern for both animal welfare and human health. The study highlights the ongoing need to educate pet owners about the effects of both flea infestation but also the pathogen risks these fleas present.
    Recent paper from UK

  • C L
    10/23/2018 (4:45 pm)

    How much to test your cat & find out if the feline is a carrier; and how much to eradicate the problem? This sounds like a very expensive shot in the dark!

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      10/23/2018 (5:20 pm)

      I wrote the Lyme disease science blog to highlight the potential exposure to cats. I am not sure testing the cat has been looked at.

      • Cheryl
        04/27/2019 (6:16 am)

        I agree that people need to be responsible for their pets and keep them indoors and take them to the vet at least twice a year make sure that they are dewormed and have appropriate flea medication and stuff like that but if you can find a decent veterinarian who in my opinion know a lot more about these things than most regular doctors, and you can keep your pet inside well if you have a cat, then the risk is not nearly as great as if you let your cat go outside come back in

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