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Ticks and your cat - Calico cat outdoors

The peak season and range of tick activity is expanding, but ticks are often overlooked by cat owners. It is important for pet owners to understand the risks associated with ticks on cats and how to prevent them. Read on to discover the answer to questions like:

  • How can I protect my cat from ticks?
  • What is the best feline tick treatment?
  • How did my cat get ticks?
  • Why are ticks dangerous?

With the increasing risk of ticks worldwide, prevention is important for pet owners everywhere.

How can I prevent ticks on my cat?

Luckily, ticks can be prevented on cats in a number of ways, limiting the risk of tick-borne diseases. Indoor cats are less likely to get tick bites due to limited exposure. Keeping a cat indoors during tick season is a great way to reduce exposure to ticks. Clearing long grass and brush from around your home also helps reduce tick activity on your property by getting rid of areas they are commonly found. Finally, if you have a cat that goes outdoors, thoroughly check your cat for ticks daily and promptly remove any found. It’s a good idea to learn the different species of ticks that are endemic to your region and what they look like.

Vet-approved tick prevention products are the best way to keep ticks off of your cat. They are available as topical medications, oral tablets or pills, and medicated collars. “It’s important to only use size and species-specific preventive medications for your cat,” warns Dr. Jo Myers. “Many of the products that are safe for dogs are not safe to use on or around cats. If you also have a dog at home, be sure to let your veterinarian know if you have a cat.” Many products — even those labeled for use on cats —- contain permethrins, which are highly toxic for cats.

What is the best tick preventation medication for my cat?

There are topical, oral, and collar tick preventives available for cats. The best type of tick control depends on a cat’s lifestyle, what form of administration they will tolerate, and the cat owner’s preference. An online virtual care appointment is an excellent way to discuss the best tick prevention medication based on your cat’s lifestyle and your own preferences.

Topical tick prevention

Topical, or “spot-on” preventative medications are popular among cat owners due to their high availability and effectiveness. Most topicals do not repel fleas or ticks but instead kill adult ticks about 24 hours after a bite, which helps prevent the transmission of tick-borne illnesses. Topical tick prevention is typically applied monthly and many products also prevent fleas and other internal and external parasites in cats. Never use a topical prevention meant for dogs or a larger cat than your own, and never split a dose between two cats. Always check with a vet before using an over-the-counter topical on your cat because some products are potentially dangerous.

Oral tick prevention

Oral preventive tick medications are available for cats just like they are for dogs, and usually require a prescription. These products do not repel ticks but have a quick kill time after a bite, preventing tick-borne illness. Oral preventatives are typically given monthly.

Tick collars

Some medicated cat collars repel fleas and ticks, preventing them from attaching. Others kill them after they bite. Some tick collars can last multiple months, making them a convenient option for cats who do not tolerate monthly pills or topical medications. However, medicated collars need to be tight enough to allow direct skin contact, and the pesticides can cause skin irritation. Some collars can be dangerous for cats, so consulting a veterinarian prior to use is strongly recommended.

Do natural tick preventatives work for cats?

Limiting exposure to ticks is a natural option for tick prevention in cats. Destroying tick habitats by cutting back grass and brush, discouraging wildlife, and keeping cats indoors during tick season limits exposure. No natural tick prevention products have been proven to work. Use only vet-approved tick prevention medications to ensure safety and efficacy. The use of essential oils or other alternatives can be dangerous and have no proven effect in preventing tick bites and illness.

How do cats get ticks?

Ticks are small, parasitic arachnids that feed on blood. They attach to a host’s skin surface. Multiple types of ticks are found worldwide year-round, though peak tick activity varies by season and region. Ticks are most common in temperate climates during early spring and late fall. Ticks are most abundant in forested and shrubby areas, and areas with tall grass. Tick season and habitat are increasing due to climate change. Wildlife and other outdoor cats spread ticks as they travel. Although outdoor cats are most at risk, indoor cats can be exposed as well. Ticks can travel indoors on people and other pets and transfer to cats who stay indoors.

How do I remove a tick from my cat?

To safely remove ticks, grasp the tick with tweezers close to the skin surface. Firmly pull the tick straight outward without twisting or crushing the tick. Wear gloves to prevent transmission of any diseases to you. Dispose of the tick by putting it in rubbing alcohol, wrapping it tightly with tape, or flushing it down a toilet. A tick removal device or tick hook can also be used to remove ticks, but they are not necessary. Never use alternative methods to remove ticks, such as petroleum jelly, baby oil, or lit matches. These methods do not work and can cause more damage to your cat’s skin or cause the tick to regurgitate or burrow deeper.

Are ticks dangerous for cats?

The risk of disease transmission from ticks to cats is low. Tick-borne diseases in cats are uncommon, but cats act as reservoirs and spread infected ticks to other people and animals. In kittens, numerous ticks can result in anemia that can be life-threatening. Sometimes tick bites can become infected. Cats worldwide can be at risk of tick-borne illnesses, such as:

Cats are naturally resistant to tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but can spread infected ticks to humans and other pets in the home. Even when infected, cats rarely develop symptoms. Clinical signs of tick-borne illness in cats may include a loss of appetite, lethargy, and swollen lymph nodes. Generally speaking, symptoms of tick-borne diseases usually do not appear for weeks to months after infection, long after the bite has healed, but it is very rare for cats to develop tick borne illness at all.

The use of tick prevention and regular inspection of at-risk cats is essential to prevent tick bites in cats as well as the spread of ticks to humans and other pets. If you have questions about your cat’s risk of ticks and the best type of prevention for your cat, an online vet can provide you with answers and guide you to your best choice.

FAQ - Tick bites, prevention, and your cat

What should I do if my cat has ticks?

If your cat has ticks, quickly and safely remove them. Thoroughly inspect your cat for other ticks that may be hiding under the fur. A visit to the vet after removing a few ticks from a healthy cat is not necessary.  Tick-borne diseases in cats are rare, but ticks are carriers of disease and can move from your cat to others in your home.

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

A visit to the vet is not necessary after finding and removing a few ticks from your cat unless they are showing signs of illness or have a heavy infestation. If you need assistance removing the ticks, an online vet can show you how from the comfort of your home.

What happens if part of a tick is left in my cat?

Ticks attach by inserting their mouth parts into the skin. If part of the tick has broken off during removal, it’s best to allow your cat’s body to expel the detached piece without interference. Digging around in your cat’s skin increases the risk of infection. Even when no mouth parts are left behind, a tick bite leaves an inflamed, scabby sore that takes weeks to heal.

What is the best tick removal tool?

Simple tweezers are the easiest way to remove a tick from the skin's surface. A special tick removal tool can also work. Other forms of tick removal, such as petroleum jelly, baby oil, and lit matches, are not safe or effective.