Ticks and your cat

Ticks and your cat - Calico cat outdoors

Ticks are tiny, parasitic arachnids that feed off the blood of other animals. Their victims can vary from birds to cats to humans. They exist worldwide and are lively year-round, depending on their habitat. In colder locations, ticks become dormant during the winter. They search for food from early spring until late fall. In warm areas, ticks can be a nuisance all year-long. They not only leave a nasty mark on the skin but can also transmit diseases such as tularemia if they stay attached for long enough. It is possible for ticks to transmit diseases to all animals they bite, including humans, so make sure to remove and destroy any ticks you find on your cat immediately once you spot them.

Can my cat get ticks?

As the range of temperate climates widens, ticks are becoming more of a concern. Ticks mainly affect cats who wander through shrubby areas outside. It is uncommon to find ticks on domestic indoor cats, but cats who share homes with outdoor animals like dogs might still pick one up now and again.

What are the symptoms of ticks on cats?

Ticks usually hide in out-of-reach areas where the skin is thin. Look around your cat’s ears and face. Once you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. A tick can transmit disease within only a few hours of attachment, so it is crucial to remove and kill them right away upon discovery. The area where the tick bites a cat is usually raised, red, and has a little scabby debris around it. Aside from a little local irritation at the site of the bite, most tick bites don’t cause any other symptoms. Even though they aren’t common, there are some other more serious medical problems that ticks can cause for cats. If a tick is carrying an infectious disease, it may transmit it to the cat. Transmission is more likely the longer the tick is attached, but infection with a tick-borne pathogen doesn’t commonly result in clinical illness for cats. Here are four examples of health issues that can occur following a tick bite:

1. Anemia - If many ticks cover your pet, it may need urgent medical attention. Severe tick bites and or infection can cause extreme blood loss leading to anemia. Symptoms to look for are pale gums, lethargy, and rapid breathing.

2. Tick Paralysis - In North America and Australia there are a few specific species of ticks that deliver toxins that cause tick paralysis. The species of ticks responsible for this toxin are primarily found in Australia, which is why occurrences of tick paralysis in cats are limited to Australia. If your cat is experiencing incoordination, weakness of limbs, and difficulty breathing, call your vet right away. Tick paralysis may be rare in cats, but it can be fatal.

3. Hepatozoonosis - Feline hepatozoonosis is a rarely diagnosed parasitic disease usually discovered accidentally when examining the blood for other conditions. There is currently not much information about this disease in cats. Experts believe ticks transmit H. felis to the host through feeding. Symptoms include fever and enlarged lymph nodes. H. felis is not much of a concern unless your cat has other underlying conditions.

4. Lyme disease - As far as we know, cats are resistant to Lyme disease. An infected tick may still transmit the disease-causing agent, Borrelia burgdorferi, to a cat, but cats do not show any symptoms other mammals typically would.

We can take comfort in the fact that most cat tick-bites do not result in disease transmission. Many illnesses are diagnosed without known exposure because it can take months for cats to show symptoms. If you find a tick on your cat, panic is not necessary. Instead, remove and destroy the tick and clean the bite on the skin with soap and water.

How do you remove a tick?

As soon as you find a tick on your cat, properly remove it as soon as possible. There are many folk tales about how to remove a tick, but do not attempt to remove a tick by applying petroleum jelly or touching the tick with a hot match, etc.. These strategies can potentially harm your pet or make it harder to remove the tick.

The best and easiest way to remove a tick is to use disinfected tweezers to grab the tick as close to your cat’s skin as possible, and gently pull up. Once the skin tents up, wait a few seconds. The tick will usually let go. If not, using steady pressure, continue to pull straight upward without twisting or jerking until the tick releases. Clean the bite with mild soap and water. Then dispose of the tick by drowning it in rubbing alcohol or flushing it down the toilet.

Over the next couple of days, make sure to monitor the bite. You can expect a bit of swelling, redness, and itchiness around the mark. Take note that a tiny dark spot at the center of the bite is normal and does not indicate you’ve left behind the head of the tick. Ticks do not insert their heads into the skin when they bite, but this myth persists because they leave a nasty sore that takes a week or two to heal even when removed correctly. If your cat has a tick bite that seems to get worse or doesn’t heal, consult a vet.

What can happen if your cat gets a tick?

Ideally, you should remove the tick as soon as possible; however, if the tick is left attached to its host, it will usually feed for a few days, become engorged and then drop off. Nonetheless, the longer the tick is attached, the higher the likelihood for transmission of a disease - if the tick is infected with one.

How do you prevent ticks on cats?

As cat owners, there are steps to take to prevent your feline friends from getting nasty tick bites.

  • Use a vet-approved preventative flea and tick medication. Several antiparasitic medicines for dogs are lethal to cats. Make sure your product is safe for your cat. Most flea and tick medication poisoning is from exposure to a permethrin-based product and pyrethroid toxicosis requires immediate medical attention.
  • Check cats for ticks regularly. This is even more important if they spend time outside.
  • Limit outdoor activity for cats. During the height of tick season in the spring and summer months, try to keep your cat indoors.
  • Keep cats away from potential areas of high tick population. Wooded or shrubby areas, long grass, and dense vegetation are prime tick habitats.
  • Manage the environment. Keep your grass cut short and remove brush, leaves, and plants that may attract deer and other wildlife carrying ticks, while also providing the shrubby habitat where ticks thrive.
  • Build a fence. This will keep out wild animals or stray dogs that may have ticks.

It is rare for indoor cats to come in contact with ticks. During periods of high tick activity, check your cats for ticks frequently in order to keep them happy and healthy. If you have questions or concerns regarding tick bites or tick-borne diseases in cats, book an online appointment at Vetster to get all your answers today!

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.

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