How to Protect Your Cat from Ticks
Ticks are common parasites found on dogs, and dog owners are often familiar with the need to use tick prevention products, especially in the summer. But did you know that cats can also be affected by ticks, even indoor cats? That’s because ticks can easily be brought inside by hitching a ride on your pants, shoes, or on the dog. Once the tick is in your house, depending on the species, they can live for 24 hours or up to several days. This gives the tick plenty of time to attach to your cat, and if left too long or not removed entirely, ticks can transmit some serious diseases.
Ticks are found in all 50 states, and their territory is expanding. Changing weather patterns, increased development in rural areas, and increasing populations of deer are all contributing to increased tick activity. Ticks are most commonly found in woodland areas or areas with high grasses. They cannot jump or fly. Instead, they crawl into the undergrowth and long grasses and reach out to climb onto animals or humans as they pass by. Only the female ticks actually feed on blood because they need it to lay their eggs. Female ticks can lay around 2000 eggs, after which they will die.
There are hundreds of species of ticks throughout North America. Many species feed solely on wild animals or are found in very specific habitats and are rarely encountered by humans. Other species are commonplace and can be found inhabiting areas frequented by humans and their pets.
The most notorious tick species that come into contact with humans are the deer tick, American dog tick, lone star tick, brown dog tick, and Western blacklegged tick. These tick species have similar life-cycles and habitats, but each transmits a unique set of pathogens and inhabits different geographical regions.
Learning about the ticks that inhabit your area and how to identify them can help to protect you and your family from exposure to tick-borne disease. For more information on the identification and distribution of ticks in the US, check out this Tick Identification Guide.
How Can You Help Your Cat?
Speak to your vet about tick control products that will rapidly kill or repel ticks. Tick products work, but not 100% of the time. Products that are safe for dogs are often not safe for cats, and most toxicities occur when owners accidentally apply products intended for dogs to cats. If you accidentally apply one of these products to your cat, immediately wash it from your cat’s skin and fur and contact your vet to take further measures to eliminate the drug from your cat’s system.
Check your cat for ticks after you or your dog has gone on a walk in wooded or grassy areas, or if your cat goes outside. Look between the toes, inside the ears, between the legs, and around the neck. If you find a tick on your cat, remove it right away and dispose of it in a sealed bag or container so that it cannot climb out of the trash and attach again. If you’re not comfortable removing a tick, make an appointment with your vet for removal as soon as possible.
There are no vaccines available for tick-borne diseases in cats like there are for dogs. Fortunately, cats are highly resistant to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and rarely show signs of the disease. Unfortunately, there are a number of other tick-transmitted illnesses in cats that are more threatening than Lyme disease, like Hemobartonellosis and Cytauxzoonosis.
How to Remove a Tick from Your Cat
Ticks can be difficult to remove. They have tiny spines that hold them tightly in place during feeding. Quickly pulling a tick away from the skin increases the chance of leaving the mouth parts in the skin. The safest way to remove a tick from your pet is to use a specially designed tick removal tool. If you do not have access to a tick removal tool, a pair of tweezers is a good second option.
- Grasp the tick gently. Squeezing the body too hard will cause the tick to regurgitate the contents of their stomach and salivary glands, increasing the risk of disease transmission.
- Do not use Vaseline or alcohol to remove the tick.
- Never burn the tick.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- Dispose of the tick by putting it in rubbing alcohol, sealing it in a bag, or wrapping it tightly in tape.
A red mark may be present after the tick has been removed. This should go away after 2-3 days and not exceed a few millimeters in size. If part of the tick is left in the skin, localized reactions may occur, including redness, swelling, rash, and/or infection.
When to Contact Your Vet
Schedule an appointment with your vet if the redness associated with a tick bite on your cat persists or increases, or if you notice any discharge from the area where the tick was removed. Additionally, stiff joints, lethargy, decreased appetite, fever, and pale gums can all be signs of tick-borne illnesses in cats. Please note that any human health concerns regarding tick exposure or tick bites should be addressed by your physician.
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