As a pet parent, you want to make sure that your precious cat lives its longest, healthiest, and happiest life possible. In addition to keeping your cat well-fed and maintaining her physical and mental stimulation, it is also essential that you ensure your pet receives appropriate preventative treatments. These treatments will keep your furry friend safe from the many infections, diseases, and illnesses that pose threats to their health and wellbeing.
Parasitic infections are just one of many health problems that our feline friends face. While various types of parasites can affect our pets, ticks are certainly one of the most prevalent.
What are cat ticks?
Ticks are a type of parasite. Ticks are small, wingless parasites that live in woody, grassy areas. Generally, ticks bite beneath a cat’s skin and suck the blood back into their bodies. Ticks, on an empty stomach, are tiny. They have eight legs and can be black-brown, red, or tan. They can swell up to the size of a pea as they fill themselves with blood from your cat.
Cat ticks are classed as arachnids instead of insects, a crucial difference between them and the flea. Ticks can pass diseases on to an animal, why tick prevention becomes so vital when looking after a feline.
When a tick bites an infected animal, they take some infectious organisms into their body, likely transmitting them to their next host. Cats are just as likely as dogs to be affected by ticks. But, what are tick-borne diseases, and which ones might affect your cat?
Tick-borne disease is an infectious disease passed between animals through the bite of a tick. A range of different tick-borne conditions can affect animals, and some can potentially affect the humans living in your household. Some of the most common include:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
How can my cat catch ticks?
There are several ways in which your cat can catch ticks. The first, and most likely, is from other animals. Cats often interact with other animals when they leave the house so that ticks can find their way from one animal and onto your cat very easily. If you’re worried about cat ticks, do not leave your cat’s food outside your home. This practice can encourage other cats and animals to enter your cat’s territory.
If you often go on walks outside in field or woodland areas, ticks can easily find their way onto your clothes. Ticks cling onto the tops of branches and to blades of grass, and when you brush past them, they cling onto your hair and clothing. This means that even indoor cats can get ticks from you. So, it doesn’t matter whether your cat travels outside or not – every pet parent should be aware of tick prevention methods.
Ticks can even survive outside when they are not on a host. They can very quickly cling to an outdoor cat’s fur as well as your clothing, bringing them inside.
How do I spot ticks on my cat?
Cat ticks are large enough to be visible to the human eye. Especially if they have already had a bite, ticks can look like small warts. On closer inspection, you can even see their legs. Ticks can usually be found around your cat’s head and neck area. Part your cat’s fur and run your fingers along their skin when you’re checking for ticks. Tick bites can also cause redness and irritation, which will be easily visible.
Symptoms of tick-borne diseases in cats
The biggest challenge for any pet parent is identifying that their pet is unwell. Your cat relies on you to determine that they are sick and require medical attention from the behavior they choose to show you. However, as cats are natural predators, they tend to hide their vulnerability. This makes diagnosing a feline with a tick-borne or other illness much harder.
The exact behavior that your cat chooses to show will depend on its age and health. However, there will be a set of core traits that suggest that a pet is unwell.
If a cat contracts this disease, it may begin to show a few of the following symptoms:
- High fever
- Occasionally seizures (although this is not very common)
Another disease that ticks carry is Ehrlichiosis. Once a cat contracts this disease, several symptoms may become apparent, including vomiting, diarrhea, swollen glands, lethargy, anorexia, swollen joints, and discharge from the eyes.
Tick in Cats
In the twenty-four hours after the tick attaches, tick-borne diseases can spread to your cat. Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases can also be contracted in humans. If you find a tick on your cat, you must remove the tick from your cat promptly and correctly – it will help not only your cat but you as well.
Here’s how to properly remove a tick from a cat.
Tools You’ll Need to Remove a Tick From a Cat
- Pair of tweezers or tick-removing tool
- Latex gloves – remember, ticks can spread diseases to humans.
- Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
- Cat-friendly antiseptic wipes
- Triple-antibiotic ointment
- Jar or container with a lid to dispose of the tick
- Someone to help restrain your cat
- Disinfectant to clean your tick removal tool after use
If you do have any of these items at home or cannot restrain the cat on your own, bring your cat to the vet to ensure the tick’s safe removal.
Steps for Removing Ticks from Cats
Removing the Tick With a Pair of Tweezers
Follow these steps if you are using a pair of tweezers:
- Fill a container with isopropyl alcohol.
- Try to restrain your cat and distract them with a treat gently.
- Separate the fur on your cat and make sure that it is a tick and not a skin tag.
- Grasp the tick with the tweezers as close to your cat’s skin as possible. Try not to squeeze the tick. If the tick’s body is compressed too hard, parts of the tick’s body can be pushed into your cat’s skin.
- Use gentle, strong pressure to remove the tick.
- Drop the tick carefully into the isopropyl alcohol solution.
- If possible, put a triple-antibiotic ointment on the tick bite area on your cat’s skin.
Steps for Using a Tick-Removing Tool
Follow these steps if you are using a tick-removing tool suck as a Tick Tornado.
- Fill up a container with isopropyl alcohol.
- Gently restrain your cat and distract them with a treat.
- Separate the fur and make sure that it is a tick and not a skin tag.
- Hook the tool under the tick, very close to your cat’s skin.
- Rotate the tool carefully until the tick separates from your cat’s skin.
- Lift the tick gently and put it into the isopropyl alcohol.
- If possible, put a triple-antibiotic ointment on the tick bite area on your cat’s skin.
How to remove a tick from a cat without tweezers
There are many popular tricks to remove a tick from a cat without a proper tick remover, but these tricks are generally not advisable – they can cause further harm to either you or your cat. Like burning a tick off with a match, these tricks can result in accidentally burning your cat’s skin or causing the tick to rupture, increasing your cat’s or your own risk of infection.
It is a common misconception that you should try suffocating the tick with Vaseline. Ticks only breathe around four times per hour, so this is unlikely to work.
It is a bad idea to remove a tick without a tick remover tool. If you don’t have the tools at home, take your cat to the vet to ensure the tick’s safe removal.
What to Do If the Head of the Tick Gets Stuck
If the tick’s head gets stuck in your cat, treat it in the same way as you would remove a difficult splinter. Don’t keep trying to remove it, as it is more likely that you’ll delay the wound healing or even create an infection. The cat’s body will most likely push it out, or the tick will dissolve independently.
Some salves can be applied (like ichthammol ointment) to pull out any material in a wound, like a tick head or fragment. Bandage the area or put an e-collar on your cat so that your pet does not lick off and ingest the product.
The disease transmission risk is very low after the tick’s body has been safely removed from the cat. Still, monitor the infection site periodically and take your cat to the veterinarian if there is any significant swelling. It is usual for there to be a small amount of redness and a scab where the tick had attached itself to the cat.
How to Kill the Tick
It is vital that you properly dispose of a tick after removal, as they can bite your cat (or you!) again if they are still alive. Once you’ve placed the tick in isopropyl alcohol to kill it, flush it down the toilet.
If there is a high incidence of tick-borne diseases in your area, you can save the tick and have it tested to see if it was a carrier of any diseases.
Preventing ticks on your cat in the future
If your cat spends time outdoors or lives in an area where there is a high incidence of ticks, it is essential to regularly check your cat as part of your cat’s grooming routine. Check them at least once daily by running your hands over their body. Ticks are most commonly found around their head, neck, ears, or feet, so pay close attention in these areas.
Removing a tick from a cat is a traumatic experience for both you and your cat; therefore, your best bet is to prevent ticks from attaching in the first place. There are many options for tick control in cats, but use only products that are made specifically for cats. Some products marketed for dogs may contain insecticides that are not safe for cats.
Topical tick control: Topical treatments come in a tube. Squeeze the tube to dole out the solution between your cat’s shoulder blades so that they cannot lick it off. The topical solution must remain on your cat until it dries before it can come in contact with other animals or before you can pet your cat.
Oral tick control: There are many tick control pills with a wide variety of effectiveness. Natural options for tick control may provide a short period of protection. Prescription options have been proven to protect for anywhere from a month to three months. Consider how easily your cat might swallow a pill before choosing this option – a pill every few months is considerably more comfortable than once a day.
Tick-control collars: Tick collars are useful in repelling ticks and fleas from your cat. Ensure that the collar fits correctly and that your cat does not chew on it.
Tick-control sprays: Some sprays offer just a short period of flea and tick repellent activity, while others may offer a more extended solution, similar to topical treatments.
Tick-control shampoo: Shampoos can help get rid of a flea or tick infestation, but they do not provide the same long-lasting effects as some other options.
The tick control option that you end up choosing for your cat depends on many factors, like how tolerant your cat is to sprays, taking pills, or wearing a collar. Only the pet parent can decide that.
Even indoor cats can benefit from regular tick prevention methods because ticks can be carried into your home on other pets or people. Contact your veterinarian to figure out which form of tick prevention will be best for you and your cat.
Which flea and tick medicine for cats should I use?
Essential oils, boric acid, Diatomaceous Earth, and other home remedies don’t always work well for flea and tick infestations. Further, some may not be safe for use with cats. Over-the-counter flea and tick collars are not always strong enough and will only keep fleas away from the neck region.
Prescription-strength flea and tick medicines for cats are your safest bet. It is best to use a topical solution applied to the back of the cat’s neck.
If you choose correctly, flea and tick medicine for cats play can also prevent heartworm disease in cats. Common brand names include Revolution Plus and Bravecto Plus. Capstar is also great for quickly killing an acute flea infestation.
Never use a product that contains a high-concentration of pyrethrins or pyrethroids, as they are very poisonous to cats.
How to use flea and tick medicine for cats appropriately
Prescription flea and tick medicine for cats are very safe. They have been extensively tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States.
The most common problem in administering flea and tick medicine to cats is not taking into account the cat’s age or weight. Take time to read the product label’s description and the pamphlet that comes with the container before you apply the medication to your cat.
More importantly, never use flea and tick medicine meant for a dog on a cat. Accidental pyrethrin and pyrethroid poisoning are common among cats, occurring when a pet parent applies a concentrated “small dog” flea and tick medicine onto their “big” cat. While topical flea and tick spot-on products are safe for dogs, they can be very dangerous for cats.
A cat’s altered liver metabolism makes them significantly more sensitive to pyrethroids than dogs. It is estimated that concentrations greater than 5-10% of pyrethrins or pyrethroids may lead to signs of tremoring, hyperthermia, seizure, and even death without treatment.
It is always better to keep your cat safe from fleas and ticks in the first place. Consult your veterinarian to pick the right flea and tick medicine for cats in your household.
How long should I use flea and tick medication on my cat?
When in doubt, external parasite prevention treatments should be used when the temperature warms up above freezing. If you live in a more temperate region (e.g., Texas, the South, Pacific Northwest, etc.), use flea and tick prevention year-round. Most flea and tick medicine for cats last for one month, and a few of them last for two months. In the long run, prevention will be cheaper and safer for the cat.