How to check your cat for ticks

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How to check your cat for ticks - a cat on someone's lap being pet

Ticks are a growing concern in parts of the United States and Canada for cat owners and their pets. It’s important for pet parents to know how to identify and remove ticks quickly and safely to prevent disease, the spread of ticks, and secondary infections. Read on to find the answers to questions like:

  • What do ticks look like?
  • Where am I likely to find ticks on my cat?
  • How do I check my cat for ticks?
  • What types of ticks can I find on my cat?
  • What do I do if my cat has ticks?

While tick-borne diseases are rare in cats, it’s important to identify, remove, and dispose of ticks safely to protect other animals from tick-borne illnesses. Ticks tend to hide in specific locations on a cat’s body to stay out of reach and feed for as long as possible without being detected. It sounds intimidating, but have no fear: finding and removing ticks is straightforward if you know what to look for.

What do ticks on cats look like?

Ticks are small, parasitic arachnids that attach themselves to multiple types of hosts including cats, dogs, and humans. Adult ticks are egg-shaped, have eight legs, and small heads. Young or larval ticks are smaller and may be difficult to see but can still be felt as small skin lumps or nodules when attached to a cat. Unfed ticks have flat bodies that swell in size as they feed. After several days, they drop off the host. When checking cats for ticks, it is often easier to feel for them rather than visually search for them. Ticks can be difficult to see under a cat’s fur due to their small size, especially in cats with dark fur or skin.

Where do ticks hide on cats?

Ticks prefer to feed in areas that have thinner skin and are out of reach from a cat’s grooming. Though they can attach anywhere on the body, check in and around the ears, around the eyes, under the collar, under the front legs, behind the back legs, between the toes, and around the tail and rectum.

“Ticks are commonly found around the ears, face, and neck, but can be anywhere on the body,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “Sometimes people confuse a cat’s nipple for a tick. It’s important for cat owners to know that all cats, regardless of sex, have nipples on their abdomen that can feel similar to ticks but have a different appearance.”

Can an indoor cat get ticks?

Outdoor cats are more susceptible to tick infestations due to greater exposure. However, an indoor cat can get ticks if they are carried inside by their owner or another pet that goes outdoors. While unlikely, ticks can hide in carpeting and wooden floorboards and attach to an indoor cat when they need to feed again. Check your indoor pet for ticks when petting or grooming, especially in endemic areas and during times of peak tick activity.

How do I check my cat for ticks?

To check a cat for ticks, run your hands with gentle pressure all over the body, paying extra attention to areas that ticks prefer to feed from. Look inside the ears and between each toe to perform a thorough check. If living in an endemic area, check outdoor cats daily and promptly remove any attached ticks. Indoor cats can be checked while being groomed and should be checked if a tick is found on another family member or pet.

How do I remove ticks from my cat?

To remove ticks, grasp the tick with tweezers at the skin’s surface and firmly pull the tick straight outward until the skin tents and then wait for the tick to let go. If it doesn’t, pull a little harder. Be careful not to twist or crush the tick as this can cause it to regurgitate or break apart. Check that you have removed the entire tick. A tick removal tool can also be used but is not necessary. Wash the area with soap and water after removing the tick.

Always wear gloves when removing ticks to protect yourself from contracting a tick-borne disease if the tick regurgitates or breaks apart during removal. Never use alternative methods to remove ticks, such as petroleum jelly, baby oil, or a lit match, as these methods do not work and can cause more harm to your cat. Dispose of the tick by dropping it into rubbing alcohol, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. If you need help removing a tick, connect with an online vet for step-by-step instructions.

What tick species am I likely to find on my cat?

Though any species of tick can bite a cat, there are three species of ticks that are abundant in North America and the most likely to be found on cats and other animals. Different kinds of ticks prefer different habitats and geographical regions, though these areas often overlap.

American dog tick

American dog ticks are chestnut brown with white spots that may turn slate gray when engorged. They are most often found in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and East Coast in the United States as well as central and eastern Canada. They are most common in the spring and summer months.

Lone star tick

Lone star ticks are various shades of brown. Females have a distinctive white or silvery spot on their back while males have scattered white spots. They are common in the underbrush along creeks and rivers, especially in the U.S. Midwest, East Coast, and Southwestern states. The range of lone star ticks may be expanding due to increased populations and ranges of white-tailed deer who often carry this species of ticks.

Deer tick/Black-legged tick

Also known as the black-legged tick, the deer tick is reddish brown in color with dark brown or black coloring between the mouth and body. They are most often found in wooded areas along trails, especially in the Midwest, Eastern U.S., and throughout Canada. As their name suggests, deer or black-legged ticks have dark legs and are common in areas with lots of wildlife.

What do I do if my cat has ticks?

If you find a tick on your cat, safely and quickly remove the entire tick with tweezers or a tick hook. Dispose of the tick safely and check yourself and other pets in your household for ticks. While cats rarely contract tick-borne illnesses, they act as vectors for infected ticks and can spread them to other members of the household, increasing the risk of infection for others. Consult a veterinarian if signs of illness, such as loss of appetite or lethargy, appear after a few weeks. If you have questions about ticks or need assistance removing a tick from your cat, you can consult an online vet with Vetster from home.

FAQ - How to check a cat for ticks

Do I need to take my cat to the vet for a tick bite?

A veterinary visit is not necessary after finding and safely removing a small number of ticks from a cat. Consult a veterinarian in the case of a heavy infestation that includes dozens of ticks, especially in young kittens.

Are tick bites dangerous for cats?

Tick-borne illnesses are rare in cats, but tick bites sometimes become infected. Heavy tick infestations can also result in anemia from blood loss that can be life-threatening. It’s important to check pets for ticks to avoid infection and complications.

How long will a tick live on a cat?

Ticks attach themselves to cats to feed and then fall off once they are fully engorged, usually after a few days. They do not lay eggs or breed on cats like fleas.

Do ticks jump from cats to humans?

Ticks do not jump like fleas do. Instead, they wait in brush or tall grass with their legs outstretched and grab onto a host that walks past.