A closer look: Tick Infestation in Cats
Ticks are parasitic arachnids that feed on their hosts until they are engorged and ready to progress to the next stage in their life cycle. This usually takes 3-6 days. When they are done feeding, they drop off and the remaining sore will subsequently heal, assuming no complications develop.
Most tick bites do not result in the transmission of a disease. Tick-borne diseases have variable incubation periods so it may take months before a cat shows signs of illness. Most cases of tick-borne illnesses are diagnosed without any known exposure.
Pets may bring ticks into the home, allowing them to feed on other pets or people. Several tick-borne diseases are zoonotic, making this a significant human health risk.
Connect with a vet to get more information
Ticks are prevalent worldwide and year-round, with regional peaks in activity depending on seasonal weather conditions. Outdoor pets (and pets who have regular contact with outdoor pets) are at the highest risk of picking up a tick. It is uncommon to find ticks on indoor cats.
While feeding on their hosts, ticks can transmit a variety of infectious diseases, so prompt removal or killing of attached ticks is essential.
Some tick species may deliver a toxin that causes muscle paralysis, leading to weakness of the limbs and difficulty breathing. Pets with signs of weakness, paralysis, or respiratory difficulty need emergency medical attention.
Since ticks feed on the blood of their hosts, severe tick infestations can cause significant blood loss. The resulting anemia can be life-threatening. Cats covered in large numbers of ticks need emergency medical attention, particularly if they have pale gums, lethargy, and are breathing rapidly.
Ticks can be found in temperate and tropical climates worldwide, and their habitat is increasing as the planet warms. Outdoor animals that are exposed to tick habitats are always at risk of picking up ticks. Frequent monitoring of outdoor pets and adherence to year-round, vet-approved preventative medication are the best, most effective ways to prevent a large-scale infestation of ticks.
Tick-borne diseases are usually transmitted when the tick feeds on an infected animal, then feeds on another animal. Some diseases can be transmitted within 3-6 hours of tick attachment, so prompt removal of ticks is important.
The presence of ticks on cats is self-evident.
Ticks cause only mild localized skin irritation when they bite. If tick-borne disease is transmitted while the tick feeds, symptoms associated with that specific disease won't occur until the required incubation period has passed, although cats are largely resistant to most forms of tick-borne illness.
Rarely, generalized symptoms of illness may develop in the weeks following a tick bite.
Testing and diagnosis
Cats do not need to go to the vet if they have received a tick bite and have no other symptoms.
Testing cats for tick-borne diseases after tick exposure is unnecessary. Cats are resistant to most forms of tick-borne illness.
In cases of severe infestation where signs of anemia have developed due to blood loss, diagnostics include
- Physical examination
- Blood work
Steps to Recovery
Generally, finding a small number of ticks on a cat is not a concern. Prompt removal of any ticks is essential to prevent tick-borne illness.
To remove a tick correctly, use tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin and slowly pull upwards using steady pressure. Do not crush, twist or jerk the tick. Do not attempt to use matches, petroleum jelly, turpentine, nail polish, or rubbing alcohol on the tick to remove it.
After removal, clean the bite area with mild soap and water. Ticks can be disposed of by putting them in rubbing alcohol, sealing them in a container, wrapping them tightly with tape, or flushing them down the toilet.
Some swelling and redness at the site of a tick bite is expected. In some cases, the bites may be itchy. A tiny dark spot in the center of the sore is common and does not indicate that the head of the tick is still in the wound. Ticks do not insert their heads into the skin when they bite.
It can take up to a week for a tick bite to heal fully. If tick bites become infected, further treatment to resolve secondary infections may be required.
Once indoors, ticks may establish an infestation, residing in cracks and crevices. Consultation with a pest-control professional is recommended if significant populations of ticks are present in the home. Many pesticides are toxic to cats, so any pet cats may need to be relocated during fumigation of a house, if required.
The most effective method of prevention is keeping up to date on vet recommended parasite control and eliminating access to tick-prone areas. These areas include:
- Wooded or forested areas
- Long grass
- Areas of dense vegetation
- Areas with leaf litter
Outdoor environments can be modified to reduce tick populations. Strategies that may help include:
- Cutting grass short
- Removing piles of brush or leaves
- Removing plants that attract deer
- Applying acaricides to the perimeter of the outdoor area
- Building fences to discourage wild animals or stray dogs from entering the area
- Limiting outdoor activity during peak tick season (spring and summer)
Always consult a veterinarian when choosing external parasite control for cats. It is important to only use cat-approved medications, as several antiparasitic medications used safely for dogs are lethal to cats.
Is Tick Infestation in Cats common?
Tick bites are common in outdoor pets that have exposure to tick habitats. Large-scale tick infestation is easily controlled with vet-approved preventative medication and routine screening of all pets in the home.
- Removal of ticks
- Preventative medication
- Routine screening
- Environmental controls