Basic Pet Care

How to Treat Your Cat for Ticks

How to Treat Your Cat for Ticks

Ticks thrive when it's warm, latching onto people and pets that pass by the places they cluster. Locations include tall grass, shrubs, meadows and wooded areas that deer inhabit.

Attracted by body heat and exhaled carbon dioxide, ticks attach themselves to the passing host, crawl to make contact with skin and start to feed on the host's blood. Initially a tick may be no bigger than a pencil dot. Once engorged, it can grow to the size of a ladybug.

The Trouble with Ticks

More than 800 species of ticks have been identified worldwide, yet only a dozen or so are associated with transmitting a serious disease through their saliva.

A bite from an infected tick transmits bacteria to a victim's bloodstream that can cause diseases not only to your cat but to you and your family as well.

Outdoor cats are more likely to pick up a tick than indoor ones. Nonetheless, a tick that you unwittingly carry home on your own clothing, shoes or skin can end up hitching a ride on your cat even if he never ventures outside.

Check Your Cat

Long-haired cats and ones with dark coats are more vulnerable to tick disease as these pests can burrow into the fur and remain undiscovered until they are engorged with blood. It is easier to find a tick on a cat with shorter coats and lighter hair.

A tick can attach itself anywhere on your cat's body, but most burrow into the face, neck, ears, feet or legs. Once there, it stays until you remove it or it becomes so engorged with blood after 3 to 4 days of sucking that it drops off. At this point, female ticks also lay eggs.

Starting at your cat's head, examine inside and outside his ears. Continue along your cat's body, checking for bumps around the collar and continuing to his rear, including under the tail and around the anus. Also check his underside.

If You Find a Tick

Don't panic — but know that the longer a tick stays on the skin, the more likely it is to transmit disease.

Ticks can be a challenge to dislodge, but you can remove one yourself by following these steps. Wear gloves and avoid squeezing the tick or pulling it straight off your cat's skin; then you run the risk of leaving part of it behind. If you can't remove the entire tick, bring your pet to the veterinarian to extract the remainder.

Once you remove a tick, place it in a capful of rubbing alcohol to kill it. Wash your hands immediately and apply a disinfectant or antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin to the bite on your cat. To help your veterinarian, bag the tick for identification and bring it to your visit.

Monitor your cat carefully after removing a tick, because symptoms of illness might not show up for weeks.

Sick from a Tick

It's possible you may never see a tick bite your cat, yet he may still become ill from one. Signs that an infected tick has bitten your cat can include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Stiff gait or lameness
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Skin infection/inflammation

Any of these symptoms requires prompt veterinary treatment.

Protecting Your Cat

Even if your pet never leaves the house, it's vital to protect him from tick bites since ticks have been found in nearly every state. And spring and summer aren't the only seasons when fleas and ticks are active. The warmth of a heated home can also serve as a tick breeding ground.

Note: Many products that kill ticks, particularly ones designed specifically for use on dogs, can be toxic to cats. For example, permethrin is a commonly used insecticide safe for dogs. Cats are much more sensitive to this chemical, and ones that come into close contact with recently treated dogs can become sick.

Ask your veterinarian to recommend the best preventive product made especially for cats and commit to using it year-round.