What diseases can ticks transmit to cats?

Dr. Neumeister recommends that cat owners routinely brush their cat’s coats and search for signs of ticks or fleas. Cats are usually meticulous groomers, therefor it is rare to see more than one or two ticks on a cat.  If you do find an attached tick you can remove it with forceps or tweezers, by reaching below the tick’s body and grabbing it close to the head where the tick is attached to the skin and pulling it out.
Make sure to wear gloves and avoid touching the tick with bare skin, as they can transmit diseases to humans.
Some tick species are very small: the 2 photos underneath show Deer ticks (black-legged ticks) that are attached underneath one of our patient’s eyes.

Although there are at least 15 species of ticks in North America, only a few of these species are likely to be encountered by your cat. They include the American dog tick, lone star tick, deer or black-legged tick, and brown dog tick.

Deer ticks or black-legged ticks have three active stages: larvae, nymphs, and adults. They feed on different animals, including cats. The tiny larvae mostly feed on small animals like white-footed mice in the spring. After a year, the larvae turn into nymphs that are about the size of a pinhead and will feed on mice, bigger animals, and people. In the fall, they become adults that mostly feed on deer and lay up to 2,000 eggs in the spring.
Adult deer ticks have a reddish-brown color and a dark brown or black shield-like shape between their mouth and body. They are usually found in wooded areas along trails, and they are distributed throughout the Midwest and eastern United States and Canada. The larvae and nymphs are active in the spring and early summer, while adults may be active in both the spring and fall.
Deer ticks can spread diseases like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis to cats, dogs, and humans. However, it is very unlikely for cats to get Lyme disease, and it has not been seen outside of a controlled laboratory setting since 2018. To keep your cat safe, it is best to keep them indoors and use flea and tick control measures.


  • Lyme Disease
  • Haemobartonellosis
  • Tularemia
  • Babesiosis (Piroplasmosis)
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Anaplasmosis
If you are interested in some of the tickborne (and flea-) diseases cats can contract, click on the tabs to the left.
Also called borreliosis, Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks carry these bacteria, transmitting them to the animal while sucking its blood. The tick must be attached to the cat for about 48 hours in order to transmit the bacteria to the animal’s bloodstream. If the tick is removed before this, transmission will usually not occur. Common signs of Lyme disease include lameness, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and joints, and a reduced appetite. In severe cases, animals may develop kidney disease, heart conditions, or nervous system disorders. Oral antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. There is, however, currently no Lyme disease vaccine for cats.
Haemobartonellos, also known as feline infectious anemia, is a disease that can affect cats and dogs and is caused by an organism that targets red blood cells. It can be transmitted by ticks and fleas and can cause anemia, weakness, and other symptoms. Treatment with antibiotics is usually required for several weeks, and in some cases, transfusions may be needed. This condition is more common in the southeastern United States but has been reported in other parts of the country, such as Texas, California, and New York. Although it is unlikely that haemobartonellosis is present in our area, it is still possible for cats or dogs from these regions to be transported and adopted out here, so it is important to be aware of the risk.
Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, is caused by bacteria spread by ticks and fleas. Some states where tularemia is most frequently found include Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. Cats are more susceptible to this condition than dogs, and will often exhibit high fever, swollen lymph nodes, nasal discharge, and possibly abscesses at the site of the tick bite. Antibiotics are used to treat tularemia, but there is no preventive vaccine available. 
Protozoa, singlecelled animallike organisms, are responsible for babesiosis in cats and dogs. These organisms are typically transmitted by ticks, which then set up residence in the animal‘s red blood cells, causing anemia. Symptoms of babesiosis can be severe and may include pale gums, depression, darkcolored urine, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. In extreme cases, the cat may suddenly collapse and go into shock. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine available to protect against babesiosis, which is most often seen in the southcentral and eastern regions of the US, including Illinois and Iowa.
Cats can acquire ehrlichiosis, a disease caused by bacteria from the genus Ehrlichia, through a tick bite. Once the bacteria enter the cat‘s white blood cells, they cause a range of symptoms, such as fever, anemia, lethargy, and inappetence or weight loss. If left untreated, this condition can become very serious, even lifethreatening. Ehrlichiosis is most commonly found in the southeastern United States, but cats coming from these areas and adopted in our region could already be infected.
Anaplasmosis is a serious tickborne disease that also affects cats. It is caused by the Anaplasma bacterium, which is transmitted by certain species of ticks. Once the bacteria enters the body, it sets up residence in the cat‘s white blood cells and begins to multiply, causing a range of symptoms such as fever, lethargy, anorexia, and jaundice. Just like Haemobartonellosis and Ehrlichiosis it is most commonly found in the southeastern United States, but cats coming from these areas and adopted in our region could already be infected.