Handling a tick on your cat may make your skin crawl, but these pesky parasites are preventable and manageable when handled with care.
Creepy crawlies are nobody's cup of tea, but certain species can cause more than just the heebie jeebies; some may actually cause harm to you and your cat. One such culprit hides in plain sight before finding its target and feasting on its blood. Sound like a horror movie? The Terrible Tick—coming to an unsuspecting feline near you.
In all seriousness, ticks on cats are nothing to be too worried about—you likely have even come into contact with one yourself after a hike in the woods.
Members of the arachnid family, ticks typically are small and oval-shaped. Thankfully, these tiny trouble-makers cannot jump or fly, but simply crawl up a host in contact with it on the tips of grasses or shrubs.
"It is a myth that ticks 'fell out of a tree' and landed on you," says Serenity Animal Hospital's Michelle Meyer, DVM, the American Association of Feline Practitioners President-Elect and Southeastern Michigan Veterinary Medical Association Vice President. "They attach at the ground level after hanging off a blade of grass or shrub and crawl up your body."
Unfortunately for cat owners, this means that your low-to-the-ground companions are at risk, as well. Yes, cats can get ticks.
"Ticks attach to cats with their mouth parts," Meyer says. "Their saliva contains a numbing agent and anti-clotting substances. They can attach to cats anywhere, but they tend to attach in warm, protected areas such as between paw pads, in ears, and armpits."
Thankfully, ticks on cats are preventable and manageable with the right care.
While indoor cats can still acquire a tick, cats with outdoor access are at much more risk. Cats in rural areas are especially susceptible to ticks, Meyer says. Ticks are most prominent April through September but some species are active year-round.
If your cat goes outside, Meyer recommends checking daily for ticks.
"Ticks can be hard to find on cats and can often look like a small skin lump," Meyer says. "Ticks can feel like small round bumps on the surface of the cat's skin. If you look closely, you should see some tiny legs sticking out of the body."
Long-haired cats may need to be combed for a thorough examination.
The typical tick feeds anywhere from 3 to 10 days and will detach itself once satiated. It only takes 24 to 48 hours for a tick to transmit disease to your pet, so act immediately. If you don't remove and dispose of the tick on your cat, you are also putting yourself at risk, as it may detach from her and later attach to you or lay eggs, adding more ticks to the environment.
Don't worry, it isn't all bad news. Of the 800 species of tick, only a dozen are known to potentially cause significant disease in cats, Meyer says. While Lyme disease may come to top of mind, cats are resistant to the bacteria and rarely develop symptoms of Lyme disease from ticks.
Symptoms of cat tick-borne disease may include:
- Stiff or swollen joints
- Shifting leg lameness
- Decreased appetite
Check with your veterinarian if you're worried your cat is infected.
Don't attempt to pull the tick off with your bare hands. Instead, a tick hook will ensure the full tick is removed with the least harm done to your cat. Tweezers may be used as a substitute, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center, but you must be careful to remove the entire body of the tick by grabbing it by its head.
"If you do not feel comfortable removing the tick yourself, please take your cat to the veterinarian to remove the tick," Meyer says. "If you choose to do it yourself, grasp the tick with a tick removal tool as close to the skin as possible. Remove the tick and dispose of it in a small, sealed container."
A lot of home remedies that may come to mind, such as lighting a match or applying Vaseline, can end up causing more harm to your cat. Meyer cautions against such remedies you may find online; your veterinarian should always be consulted before attempting tick removal.
If this whole process has your skin crawling, it's possible to be proactive by protecting your cat from ticks and other parasites; many medicines prevent fleas and ticks. Meyer recommends asking your veterinarian for the best flea and tick medicine for your cat.
Notably, the Seresto flea and tick collar for cats is linked to multiple deaths and injuries. Daily Paws spoke with multiple licensed veterinarians for their takeaway on these and other similar collars. Ultimately, you should always consult with your own veterinarian who knows the needs of your pet—don't worry about being a pest.