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Tick Feeding on a Cat

A tick feeding on a cat's digged fur.

Ticks are picked up almost exclusively outdoors, preferring to attach themselves around the neck and ears, causing an inflammatory reaction where they attach. Never pull on a tick to remove it as you might risk leaving the tick's head under the skin, which can cause a painful reaction.

Ticks are efficient carriers of disease because they attach firmly when sucking blood, feed slowly and may go unnoticed for a considerable time while feeding. Ticks take several days to complete feeding. Because cats are fastidious groomers, it is rare to see more than one or two ticks on a cat. If you observe numerous ticks, this could be a sign of illness in your cat (cats that are ill usually do not groom themselves).

How did my cat get ticks?[]

Ticks wait for host animals on the tips of grasses and shrubs. When the plant is brushed by a moving animal or person, they quickly let go of the vegetation and climb onto the host. This is a process known as questing. Ticks can only crawl; they cannot fly or jump. Some species of ticks will crawl several feet toward a host. Some tick species can be active on winter days when the ground temperatures are about 32°F (0°C).

There is also a wide variety of types of tick species you should be concerned about when it comes to any of them potentially attacking your cat's fur, as these could spread Lyme disease towards your cat as such if it stays on the cat long enough with a tight grasp:

  • American Dog Tick
  • Lone Star Tick
  • Deer Tick
  • Blacklegged Tick
  • Brown Dog Tick
  • Longhorned Tick

What can I do to prevent my cat from getting ticks?[]

There are many tick preventatives available commercially. They range from over the counter products such as powders and collars that have limited effectiveness, to stronger products that are only available through your veterinarian. Some products, especially powders, require frequent applications, while others require minimal effort on the part of the cat owner. One of the most convenient and effective products is a flea and tick preventive called Bravecto® that is simply applied topically, to the skin on back of the neck where it is absorbed.

It is important to NEVER use flea and tick products meant for your dog on your cat as they can be toxic, causing your cat to have seizures. Your veterinarian will make specific recommendations to keep your cat parasite free.

What should I do if I find a tick on my cat?[]

Tick removal

Human using tweezers to remove a tick on a cat.

  1. Use fine tipped tweezers or disposable gloves to handle the tick. If you must use your fingers, shield them with a tissue or paper towel.
  2. Infectious agents may be contracted through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin simply by handling infected ticks."-- This is especially important for people who de-tick pets because ticks infesting dogs and other domestic animals can carry multiple diseases capable of infecting humans.
  3. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. This reduces the possibility of the head detaching from the body upon removal.
  4. Pull the tick out straight out with steady, even pressure. Continue applying steady pressure even if the tick does not release immediately. It may take a minute or two of constant, slow pulling to cause the tick to release. There are also tools available called Tick Twister® or Tick Key® which can be useful. However, take care to use them cautiously as twisting or jerking the tick may cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin, increasing the chances of infection.
  5. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water. Home remedies such as applying petroleum jelly or grease, or touching the rear of the tick with a hot match do not work effectively, and are not recommended. These techniques cause the tick to salivate and can actually increase the chance of your pet getting a disease:

"Home remedies, such as applying petroleum jelly, will cause the tick to salivate and can actually increase the chance of your pet getting a disease."

When doing all this, you may wish to preserve it in rubbing alcohol for identification. Be sure to label the container with information about the time and place where the tick bite occurred. This will help you to remember details of the incident, especially if a rash or other symptoms associated with Lyme disease appear later. This information will be of help to a veterinarian or physician diagnosing an illness.


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