Ticks and your cat

If you own a cat, chances are that your pet will have ticks at some point in his or her life.

These tiny, spider-like bugs feed on the blood of cats and other mammals. Not only do they make your cat uncomfortable, but they can also carry nasty illnesses that they can pass onto your cat, or you. On spotting a tick on your pet, the natural instinct is to try to remove it immediately. But it is crucial to remove ticks correctly. Removing a tick incorrectly could leave part of the parasite’s mouthparts in your pet, creating a risk of infection.  

So how can you prevent ticks from biting your cat? And what can you do to remove them safely if your feline already has them? Let’s take a look. 


How does my cat get ticks? 

Ticks are small, spider-like, egg-shaped insects with large bodies and small heads with complex biting mouthparts. Like fleas and other parasites, they feed on the blood of animals, but unlike fleas, they latch on to the flesh and staying there for as long as they can. A range of varieties of tick affect cats, many of them relatively harmless. However, unlike fleas, some forms of tick are responsible for spreading a range of life-threatening diseases among humans and animals, making it essential to eliminate them from your cat, and your home.

 The most common routes by which ticks could find their way onto your cat are: 

  • Wildlife: Not being the social creatures that dogs are, and in fact highly territorial, cats are unlikely to pick up ticks from other cats. However, cats love to chase, pray on and toy with small wildlife such as mice and squirrels, which may be carrying the parasites.  
  • People: If you like to spend time outside ‒ hiking in the hills or playing field sports, for example ‒ then you could be the source of your cat’s ticks. Humans can easily carry ticks into the home on clothing or in hair, allowing them to get to your pet. Equally, other pet owners who visit your home might bring unwanted visitors with them.  
  • Vegetation: As a cat owner, you know that our feline friends love to explore. But their adventures can take them through long grass, fields and backyards where ticks are prevalent. This is a common way for your pet to end up bitten by ticks.

 

What are the symptoms of ticks? 

Ticks most commonly feed on cats between the toes, behind the ears, under the legs and around the head and tail, so keep an eye on their behavior and look out for signs of itching and discomfort. Ticks have large white, black or brown bodies, so you should be able to see it attached to your pet’s skin if you inspect the area closely. 


How to remove a tick from a cat 

Removing ticks is not a simple job. Unlike fleas, the complex mouthparts of ticks are purpose-designed to resist removal, so taking a tick out by force risks leaving part of the critter in your cat’s skin. The body of a tick is also soft, and squeezing could put infected blood back into your animal’s system, leading to illness.  

Removing ticks is quick and painless if you know how to do it. With rubber gloves on to avoid being bitten yourself, use a specially designed tick removal hook that you should be able to get from your veterinarian or local pet store. The hook has a narrow slot which needs to be slid under the tick at skin level making sure it’s not tangled in the fur and is securely around the tick’s mouthparts. Then rotate the hook several times to gently easy the mouth parts out of the skin.

Bending or twisting could break off the body from the mouthparts, which will then stay lodged in the skin. Place the tick in rubbing alcohol or strong spirit to ensure it is dead, then inspect your dog’s skin closely to check for any remnants. Finish by cleaning the bite with an antiseptic wipe or spray.

Petting your cat during the process to keep her calm will make the job easier for you. If another person can help keep your cat still while you work, all the better. If you are at all unsure if you can do this yourself take your cat to your veterinarian who will remove it for you.

 

How to prevent ticks in cats  

The golden rule of tick prevention is to protect your pet’s environment as well as your pet. There is little point clearing your cat of ticks if the house or garden are still a risk.  
After finding ticks, with your pet clear of the little biters, clean the house thoroughly. Vacuum all carpets and soft furniture, put the dust bag in a plastic bag and throw it in the trash outside. Just a small infestation can quickly spread as the ticks’ breed.  

The same goes for the yard. You might not associate gardening with pest control, but with long grass and wild shrubbery are particularly attractive to ticks so keeping the yard tidy and trimmed short can make a big difference to the risk your cat faces when playing outside.  

Consider using tick collars and other preventative products for your cat. These collars and sprays contain odorous chemicals that ticks find unpleasant, deterring them from biting. Combined flea and tick collars are also available for double protection.

 

Tick paralysis - a silent killer  

Typically, the risk posed by ticks to your pet is limited to some discomfort and a possible infection from any previous hosts. But the females of some tick varieties ‒ including the American Dog Tick, Rock Mountain Wood Tick and Deer Tick ‒ secrete a neurotoxin upon biting which leads to tick paralysis. This paralysis begins in the lower extremities and spreads upwards through the body, and can pose a risk to life if it affects your cat’s diaphragm, restricting breathing. If you find a tick on your cat and suspect that paralysis may have taken effect, take your cat to a vet straight away.

There are also lots of tickborne diseases which can affect humans, so it’s important to regularly keep on top of pest control in your home and ensure you dispose of any ticks you find on your dog carefully. You can find out more about tickborne disease of the United States here.