Cats are not small dogs: Is there an immunological explanation for why cats are less affected by arthropod-borne disease than dogs?

Michael J. Day*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
418 Downloads (Pure)


It is widely recognized that cats appear to be less frequently affected by arthropod-borne infectious diseases than dogs and share fewer zoonotic pathogens with man. This impression is supported by the relative lack of scientific publications related to feline vector-borne infections. This review explores the possible reasons for the difference between the two most common small companion animal species, including the hypothesis that cats might have a genetically-determined immunological resistance to arthropod vectors or the microparasites they transmit. A number of simple possibilities might account for the lower prevalence of these diseases in cats, including factors related to the lifestyle and behaviour of the cat, lesser spend on preventative healthcare for cats and reduced opportunities for research funding for these animals. The dog and cat have substantially similar immune system components, but differences in immune function might in part account for the markedly distinct prevalence and clinicopathological appearance of autoimmune, allergic, idiopathic inflammatory, immunodeficiency, neoplastic and infectious diseases in the two species. Cats have greater genetic diversity than dogs with much lower linkage disequilibrium in feline compared with canine breed groups. Immune function is intrinsically related to the nature of the intestinal microbiome and subtle differences between the canine and feline microbial populations might also impact on immune function and disease resistance. The reasons for the apparent lesser susceptibility of cats to arthropod-borne infectious diseases are likely to be complex, but warrant further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number507
Number of pages9
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2016


  • Arthropod-borne infectious disease
  • Cat
  • Disease prevalence
  • Dog
  • Genetics
  • Immune function
  • Immune system
  • Microbiome


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