What Are Ticks?

Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of unlucky host animals, including our feline companions. Like mites and spiders, ticks are arachnids. Although their presence may not even be noticed by the host, ticks can transmit many diseases through their bite. Tick species and disease transmission tend to vary based on where you live, so check with your vet about what is common in your area.

How Are Ticks Transmitted to Cats?

Most species of ticks require blood meals from a host to survive and thrive. Ticks bury their heads into a cat’s skin when they bite, and then gorge themselves on blood. Ticks are often the size of a pinhead before they bite, and not noticed until they swell with blood.

Ticks tend to be most active in late spring and summer and live in tall brush or grass, where they may attach to dogs and outdoor cats frolicking on their turf. Even if you have an indoors-only cat, ticks can be transferred from dogs coming into the household from outdoors. These parasites prefer to attach close to the head, neck ears and feet. However, they can be found anywhere on your pet’s body.

How Do I Know if My Cat Has Ticks?

Most ticks are visible to the naked eye. While these parasites rarely cause obvious discomfort, it’s a good idea to check your cat regularly if you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, especially if he spends a lot of time outside. Run your hands carefully over your pet every time he comes inside, and especially check inside and around the ears, head and feet.

How Do I Safely Remove a Tick?

If you do spot a tick, remove it immediately by treating the area with rubbing alcohol and plucking the parasite with tweezers. It is important to be careful when removing the tick, however, as any contact with the tick’s blood can potentially transmit infection to your cat or even to you. Please also note that just pulling the tick off may leave the biting head or other body parts still imbedded in your cat’s skin. And throwing a tick in the trash or flushing it down the toilet will not kill it. Instead, drop the tick in a jar of alcohol to prevent it from reattaching itself to your pet.

Are Certain Cats Prone to Ticks?

Outdoor cats who live in the southern states and certain wooded areas of the Northeast, where ticks are prominent, are more prone to ticks due to increased exposure.

What Are Some Complications Associated with Ticks in Cats?

  • Ticks can transmit several diseases to cats similar to Lyme disease in humans, including Babesia, Cytauxzoonosis and Mycoplasma. Symptoms of these diseases vary, but often include fever, lack of appetite, jaundice and severe anemia.
  • Ticks on cats can also transmit disease to humans and other animals, like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  • Blood loss
  • Skin irritations and infections

My Cat Has Been Bitten by a Tick! What Should I Do?

Consult with a veterinarian, who can advise on the best way to remove the tick and help you prevent future infestation. Your vet may also perform blood tests to rule out a more serious tick-borne disease, such as Cytauxzoonosis.

What is Cytauxzoonosis?

Cytauxzoonosis is a lethal infection caused by tick bites. Prominent in the south and first identified during the 1970s, Cytauxzoon felis—a blood parasite—is carried by bobcats. Ticks feed on bobcats, and in later cycles, may transmit the infection to domestic cats, for whom the disease is fatal.

The infection progresses rapidly—in a matter of weeks—and there is no known cure, though several studies have proved successful in managing certain strains of the disease.

How Can I Prevent Tick Infestation?

Many of the same products on the market that treat fleas also kill ticks and protect against future infestation. These topical treatments are especially recommended for cats who live in areas with high tick populations. Speak to your vet to select the correct product, and remember that some treatments that are safe for dogs can be toxic to cats.

Of course, the best way to reduce your cat’s risk of exposure is to keep him indoors. Indoor cats live much longer than outdoor cats, and are less likely to catch infectious diseases or experience ugly run-ins with wildlife, fleas and ticks. If your kitty insists on some fresh air, be sure to install a safe and secure enclosure in your backyard. In fact, the key to any successful tick control program lies, literally, in your own backyard. Ensure a tick-free lawn by mowing it regularly, removing tall weeds and making it inhospitable to other common tick hosts, including rodents, by keeping garbage covered and inaccessible.