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Lyme disease control via large packs of domestic cats

Image credit: Anna M. Schotthoefer

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jul 05, 2021
Lyme disease spirochetes (Borrelia burgdorferi and a few close relative species) survive in rodents and some bird species. Ticks first get infected with the Borrelia bacteria from such reservoir animals and then pass it on to humans, dogs, horses, etc.

The idea is for people that live in Borrelia/tick infested areas to keep large packs of cats as pets. Cats would drastically reduce the number of Borellia reservoir species and thereby reduce the local cases of Lyme disease (Borreliosis).

It goes without saying that the cats should be well taken care of, wear tick protection, be vaccinated, spayed/neutered so as not to create another catastrophe by overpopulating an area. Wear an ID so that they don't get in trouble with the neigbors.

[1]Richter D, Spielman A, Komar N, Matuschka F. Competence of American Robins as Reservoir Hosts for Lyme Disease Spirochetes. Emerg Infect Dis. 2000;6(2):133-138. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid0602.000205

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How could this idea be tested?

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jul 05, 2021
How would one test the before/after difference in the local area?

I imagine going around and manually collect some ticks to be tested would be a daunting task and would largely depend on luck.

On the other hand, maybe regularly collecting all ticks that could be found on the local domestic animals and testing them with home test kits would give good statistics over time.


  • no cats for the first year (collecting ticks from dogs, horses, cows, etc)
  • 1 cat the next year (collecting ticks from cats, dogs, horses, cows)
  • 5 cats the next year
  • 10 cats the next year
  • 20 cats the next year
Experiment complete.
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 months ago
I remember in university I've heard a method of how biologists/ecologists count an average number of ticks in a given land area. Ticks are mostly found on the grass where they "stalk their prey", so the square sheet of fabric of a known size (usually 1 square meter) is placed on grass and left for some time for ticks to climb on it (perhaps for the best results it could be sprayed with some tick attracting substances). The sheet is repeatedly placed few times in different areas of the grass field, then the results are averaged and multiplied to match the total square area of the field (say you found 5 ticks on average in 1 square meter of the grass, so if you know that the size of the grass field is 100 square meters, you assume there are around 500 ticks in it). I think the method is used to count ticks not only in grass fields but any natural habitats - parks, forests, etc.

Of course, it's very approximate, but it's a way to count the ticks in an area more directly than from animal infestations.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 months ago
Povilas S the tick stalking is called "questing". They do it all day, every day until they either feed or die. They only get off from their posts when the sun is too strong. The sun dehydrates and kills them. https://youtu.be/HBqdBpIAyjw?t=265 (from 4:40 onwards)

As you said, it might be possible to pick them up for counting/testing by dragging a cloth back and forth over an area (as if lawn-mowing).
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 months ago
Darko Savic Yes, the existence of Haller's organs mentioned in the video also confirms that spraying the cloth with certain chemicals to imitate the smell of the host could encourage them to climb on the cloth. That's a fun video by the way.

The dehydration part got me thinking would it be possible to use some methods to forcibly dehydrate them (aside from routinely burning the grass) - maybe UV lamps at night for example. If that would contribute at all to their dehydration, a drone could carry a strong UV lamp back and forth through the grass field at night.

Apparently dogs are a better option

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Spook Louw
Spook Louw Jul 06, 2021
I love the idea, and I was doing some research in support of the idea, but unfortunately, I found the opposite of what I was hoping for. Apparently, the idea that cats are naturally mortal enemies of rodents seem to be a bit misguided and cats actually kill far fewer rodents than we think. That said, they are reportedly still pretty good at hunting birds, you mentioned that certain types are also carriers of the disease.

Snakes are also pretty good at hunting rats but letting one roam free in your yard could be dangerous, also, they are likely to simply leave. Weasels and ferrets are also apparently pretty ferocious rat killers, but rats are able to kill them as well, so it's a bit of a toss-up.

What I've found is that man's best friend seems to step up to the plate again. Dogs seem to be the best option for keeping rodents at bay, especially if you get the right breed. The Rat Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Norfolk Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, Dachshund, Miniature Schnauzer, Lakeland Terrier, German Pinscher are reportedly the best equipped for the task of exterminating rats.

I know that part of your reason for choosing cats was that they are apparently immune to some of the diseases carried by ticks, but dogs could easily be treated to protect them from the diseases as well. I use Nexgard on my dogs and it works perfectly.

[1]https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/cats-are-surprisingly-ineffective-keeping-urban-rat-populations-check-180970428/

[2]https://www.automatictrap.com/blogs/news/5-animals-used-for-rodent-solutions

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 months ago
Cats seem to be quite effective according to this https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms2380

Maybe their appetite could be controlled/targeted when needed. For example when cases of Lyme disease in an area increase, the cats could be let to wreak havoc for a brief period, then after a while they would get fed more delicious food to make them hunt less. Every owner could coordinate with the local wildlife conservation people to know when the season is on/off.

This is how wolves, deer, bears, foxes are controlled in my country. Hunters can't go after mice, but cats can.
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 months ago
I'm also not quite convinced that dogs are better at this. I've never seen a dog killing or bringing back a rodent (maybe they just don't show it, I don't know), while many times with cats, even those who are well home-fed still tend to chase them. It seems likely that with some dog breeds this could be the case, but with cats, it's just universal for all of them, so you wouldn't need to buy a specific breed just for that purpose.

What I'm a bit worried about in the case of cats, however, is bird killings. As Darko Savic mentioned, only some of the species are carriers of the disease, rodents are the main problem, as I understand, but keeping large packs of cats could result in great reduction of birds in a local area, all kinds of them, not only those who carry the disease, especially small ones, and birds are such an aesthetically pleasing part of wild nature, it's so nice to see/hear them around your home.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 months ago
I previously found the same article about cats/rodents in urban environments. However i have 4 cats in rural environment and their score is quite impressive. Not a day goes by without them bringing a few mice and an occasional bird to the door. I will start testing/logging every tick i see. I will adopt 4 more kittens soon.

Unlike urban, if rural mice don't go outside, they don't get to eat. The ticks attach to them outside. If they can pick up ticks they can also be picked off by cats.

Cats usually don't roam too far from their local territory which is ideal for a thorough cleanup.

I think this will work, but in my case it's too late to do the experiment as described above. I won't be able to measure the begore/after progress since I'm starting with 8 cats.

Lawnmowing and sprinkling the grass with diluted aromatic oils that repel ticks

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J
Juran Jul 15, 2021
Two strategies combined:
  • Regular lawnmowing - will reduce the attachable surface for ticks, expose the rest to the sun (and probably mechanically kill some, too)
  • Sprinkling the grass with aromatic oils diluted in water. As we already mentioned, some plants have oils that, in a more or less efficient way, repel ticks.
These two strategies combined could help the removal of ticks from human surroundings, with minimal effect on the ecosystem. They are easily implementable, cheap (DIY), and needed even when the ticks are not the problem.

Natural, safe, and sustainable change in the environment that ticks won't like - planting a natural repellent

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J
Juran Jul 08, 2021
Many plants are used to produce natural tick repellent. These plants are cedar (non-toxic cedar oil is used as a repellent), citronella, tea, peppermint, almonds, jojoba, eucalyptus, need, garlic , oregano, thyme, clove, ...

What if we planted an area of 100 sqm full of the above-mentioned repellent plants and compared the number of ticks in the area with the number of ticks in the standard local vegetation of the same surface? Would that give us the required info about the efficacy of the plants as natural repellents?

That way we could defend ourselves and our pets from ticks in a safe, non-invasive and sustainable way. Of course, cautious selection of suitable plant species should be done, with local flora and fauna in mind.

[1]https://www.farmersalmanac.com/7-natural-tick-remedies-work-27452

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Povilas S
Povilas S3 months ago
I like the idea, but first of all, I'm skeptical that natural repellents really work on ticks. It's similar like with mosquitos, nothing really works, even the chemical sprays. The latter might work for a short time, but nothing is truly effective. Except those which contain high concentrations (50- 100% ) of DEET chemical. But then they are also nasty to humans - they irritate skin, eyes, you should be careful not to inhale it, you can't use it on children, also you should wash it off the skin later.

On the other hand, repelling ticks from their habitat might be easier than repelling them from their prey. However, as Shubhankar Kulkarni indicated, first the active substances themselves should be tested, if a certain isolated natural substance was proven to effectively repel the ticks, then the plants which produce it might potentially have the same effect, even though the concentrations present in the air around the plant will be way smaller. I once saw a video on youtube where a drop of peppermint oil drove an already attached tick out of someone's hand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9u31DvnAJ4), but there are other videos where the same method doesn't work.

Planting certain area with aromatic plants and counting the ticks there in comparison to e.g. a natural meadow will not tell us much about the plant's power to repel the ticks. If you replace natural meadow's vegetation with any cultural plant, you'll find fewer ticks (if any) in that cultivated field, because ticks are adapted to certain natural vegetation, so replacing it with anything essentially different will eliminate or greatly reduce the number of ticks. Therefore an experiment in a terrarium, suggested by Darko Savic seems more suitable.

However, I'm not sure how to implement the method you propose on a large scale, in nature. If you'd plant an occasional aromatic plant in the natural meadow and expect ticks to disappear this most likely won't work.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni3 months ago
The main tick-repelling ingredient from these plants is the oil, as also indicated in the reference you posted. The growing trees may not (do they?) release these oils in nature and affect the ticks in a certain radius around them. A tick might be beneath a repellent-producing tree and may not be affected by it. The tick needs to come into contact with the repellent, that is, the oil and not the tree producing it. Even if the aroma is sufficient to repel the tick instead of actual contact with the chemical, the repellent needs to be in its active (purest) form, which needs to be extracted from the plants.

On the other hand, some trees repel the animals that host these ticks. They can be planted around your house but this method will prevent new ticks (and their hosts) from entering the area and not remove the existing ones.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 months ago
There might be an even easier experiment before the 100 square meters one. How about placing one large female tick in a terrarium with each of the plant species and see what the little ones do when they hatch. I'm guessing that young ticks aren't good at crossing long distances. If they happen to be born in a Thyme field, they would just climb one of the plants and wait for a host to walk by. Would they die sooner than those born on any other grass? Would a specific plant make them abandon their program and spend all of their energy walking away? That's to be seen. I think it could be tested in a terrarium.

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