What You Should Know About Ticks on Cats and How to Remove
Cats are special animals. Most take great care of themselves, but some may miss the occasional pest lurking in their fluffy coats.
Even completely indoor cats can experience the occasional creepy crawlers — like ticks.
Ticks are small, spider-like creatures that live and breed on animals of all shapes and sizes. They live throughout the United States and carry a variety of infectious diseases that are dangerous to your cat.
Find out how to get rid of ticks on cats and prevent tick-borne illness.
Can cats get ticks
Short answer? Yes! Dogs tend to get ticks more often than cats. They spend lots of time in nature — on hikes and long walks with their pet parents. But it is possible for cats to get ticks.
If your cat likes to explore your neighborhood or nearby woods, ticks may find opportunities to latch on. Most importantly, ticks can climb on humans while outdoors which can transfer to your pets after bringing them home.
And remember — flea and tick season isn’t limited to warmer months. No matter where you live, your cat could encounter a variety of ticks.
The life cycle of cat ticks
There are two families of ticks — hard and soft — that can harm your feline friends. Each goes through its own life cycle stages. Their life span can last more than 3 years.
- Tick eggs: Ticks begin as eggs. After females mate, they drop to the ground and deposit thousands of eggs.
- Tick larvae (seed tick): Once the eggs hatch they become larvae. Tick larvae have six legs and are extremely difficult to see.
- Tick nymph: After the tick larvae feed on another host, they will molt into a tick nymph. At this stage they have eight legs.
- Adult tick: When ticks become adults they develop unique markings and defined mouthparts.
Types of ticks on cats
There are over 900 species of ticks across the world, but roughly a dozen carry tick-borne feline diseases. Here are 4 of the most common types of ticks on cats.
1. American Dog (Wood) Ticks.
American dog ticks are common in the eastern part of the United States. Most are brown with distinct white markings on their backs. These pesky bugs are a threat year-round because they can go without feeding for up to two years.
2. Blacklegged (Deer) Ticks.
Found mostly in eastern states, blacklegged ticks thrive in warmer climates. Blacklegged ticks typically feed on deer, but pets aren’t completely out of the woods. These ticks are medium brown with a dark brown dorsal shield that looks like armor.
3. Brown Dog (Kennel) Ticks.
Brown dog ticks live in nearly every U.S. state. These pose a bigger threat to your cat because they can survive entirely indoors. With a light brown color and narrow shape, these parasites are hard to spot in cat beds and houses.
4. Lone Star Ticks.
Lone star ticks are common in southern states and can be aggressive when trying to find a host. This tick gets its name from the white dot found on the back of the female tick.
How to deal with a tick bite on a cat
Cats rarely contract tick-borne disease through tick bites. Which is why it’s important to know the signs and symptoms to prevent infection.
Ticks on cats: symptoms and signs
Even though tick-borne illness is rare in cats, if your pet begins to develop any of these symptoms after a tick bite, it's a good idea to consult with your vet.
Typical symptoms of tick-borne disease in cats include:
- Weakness or decreased energy
- Swollen or stiff joints
- Loss of appetite or vomiting
Tick saliva can also be really irritating to your cat’s skin. If you notice excessive scratching or licking, they may have a tick bite.
Tick-borne illness in cats
There are several tick-borne diseases that are dangerous for your cat. Here are the most common illnesses you might encounter with a tick bite.
- Bobcat fever (Cytauxzoonosis). Bobcat fever is one of the most serious tick-borne illnesses in cats. Carried by the Lone star tick, bobcat fever symptoms include fever, lethargy, and severe anemia. Bobcat fever is usually fatal.
- Lyme disease. Though more common in humans and dogs, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, sometimes found in cats. Symptoms may look like an arched back while walking, sensitivity to touch, and joint stiffness or damage.
- Tularemia (Rabbit fever). Tularemia is relatively uncommon in cats, but is worth mentioning for its commonality in small rodents. Tularemia can lead to fever, swollen lymph nodes, and abdominal pain.
- Feline Babesiosis. Blacklegged ticks are carriers of Babesiosis. The most common source of Babesiosis is through a tick bite. But other methods include an infected animal bite and compromised blood transfusions. Signs of babesiosis often look like other tick-borne diseases.
- Feline Ehrlichiosis. Ehrlichiosis is native to the southern states. Brown dog, American dog, and lone star ticks can all carry the disease. The most common symptoms include swollen joints, anemia, and breathing problems.
- Hemotrophic Mycoplasmosis (Haemobartonellosis). Similar to feline babesiosis, tick bites aren’t the only source of infection in Haemobartonellosis. This parasitic blood infection causes severe anemia, loss of appetite, and breathing problems.
Beyond spreading disease, a bite from a tick can irritate your cat's skin. Pay close attention to any signs of irritation like excess biting or licking a particular area, which may signal a bigger issue.
The sooner you notice symptoms, the sooner you can help your pet and avoid disease.
How to remove a tick from a cat
Safely removing a tick from your pet is important to avoid infection and disease. There are a few dos and don’ts for removing ticks, but overall it’s pretty easy to do.
Here’s how to get rid of ticks on cats in 4 simple steps.
Good tick removal begins with the right equipment. Grab these recommended tools to safely remove a tick from your cat.
- Protective gloves
- Fine-point tweezers (or another tick-removing tool)
- A flea comb
- Isopropyl or rubbing alcohol
- A small container or jar
- Sharpie or pen
- A helper and treats
Once you’ve assembled your items, put on protective gloves and have a helper carefully hold your cat and keep them calm with treats.
Part your cat’s fur using a flea comb to access the tick. With your disinfected removal tool, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Then, slowly pull the tick out with gentle, but firm, upward pressure.
After removing the tick, place it in a small container with isopropyl alcohol. This will kill the tick but allow you to save it for future use. Write the date and location of the bite on the top. Thoroughly clean your hands, the bite area, and your removal tool.
Scan your pet for additional ticks or tick bites and repeat the process. And as always, consult with your veterinarian if your pet’s symptoms begin or worsen.
Dos and don’ts of removing a tick from a cat
When it comes to getting rid of ticks, there are a few strategies to avoid and some you should follow.
- Wear protective gear
- Use the right tools
- Save the tick for identification
- Try to suffocate the tick
- Jerk, twist, or squeeze the tick
- Let your cat eat the tick
How to prevent ticks on cats
Finding unwanted pests on your best friend isn’t fun. But staying calm and learning what to do when your cat has a tick will help you keep your pet safe, healthy, and happy.
Tick prevention for cats: 6 simple tips
1. Inspect your cat for ticks regularly.
The best way to prevent ticks is to be proactive about your pet’s exposure. Scan your cat's body after any time outdoors, paying particular attention to key areas ticks like to feed. The most common areas ticks hide on cats are:
- Neck and underneath the collar
- Armpits and legs
- Groin and tail
- Paws and toes
2. Keep your cat groomed.
Long-haired cats may need frequent grooming to more easily spot ticks. Regardless, when your cat’s fur is clean and combed it’ll be easier to check for ticks. Treat your pet with a good brushing after extended periods of time outside.
3. Use a vet-quality flea and tick treatment.
To ensure your pet stays pest free, you need consistent and preventative flea and tick treatment. There are lots of products to choose from so be sure to do your research.
4. Explore products that include ingredients that actually kill ticks.
To support year-round flea and tick prevention look for products that attack fleas at every life cycle stage and repel ticks all year long.
- Adulticides. These chemicals help kill adult ticks and fleas. Examples include Imidacloprid and Fipronil (found in Paws Plus® for Cats).
- Insect Growth Regulators. These chemicals prevent flea eggs from developing into adult fleas. Some examples include Pyriproxyfen and s-Methoprene.
Permethrin is toxic to cats. Make sure you aren’t using the same flea and tick treatment that you use on your dogs as your cats.
5. Protect yourself.
If you spend a lot of time in wooded areas, you may collect ticks that could harm both you and your cat. Stay in the center of trails when hiking and wear light-colored long pants and shirts, closed-toe shoes, and an effective tick repellent.
6. Keep your home clean.
Some species of ticks thrive inside. Start by making a habit of cleaning your pet’s bedding often. You may want to contact a licensed pest control professional to help — check for one that offers a pet-friendly solution.
To improve tick control around your home, remove weeds, keep your grass short, and dispose of lawn clippings right away.
Harmful pests like fleas and ticks can be a nightmare to deal with as a pet parent. Keep your cat protected from this common health problem by staying up to date on your flea and tick knowledge and treatment.
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