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Ticks of Cats

By Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD, Professor of Dermatology, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Thomas R. Klei, PhD, Boyd Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Advanced Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine and Louisiana Agriculture Experiment Station, Louisiana State University
David Stiller, MS, PhD, Research Entomologist, Animal Disease Research Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, University of Idaho
Stephen D. White, DVM, DACVD, Professor and Chief of Service, Dermatology, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital; Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis
Michael W. Dryden, DVM, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Parasitology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University
Carol S. Foil, DVM, MS, DACVD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine
Paul Gibbs, BVSc, PhD, FRCVS, Professor Emeritus, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida
John E. Lloyd, BS, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Entomology, University of Wyoming
Bernard Mignon, DVM, PhD, DEVPC, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, Parasitology and Parasitic Diseases, University of Liège
Wayne Rosenkrantz, DVM, DACVD,
Patricia A. Talcott, MS, DVM, PhD, DABVT, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Toxicology, Holm Research Center, University of Idaho
Alice E. Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP, Director; Director, Animal Oncology Consultation Service; Pawspice
Patricia D. White, DVM, MS, DACVD,

Also see professional content regarding ticks.

Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that attach themselves to animals and people. As they feed, ticks can transmit diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q fever, and Lyme disease. Skin wounds caused by ticks can lead to bacterial infections. Severe tick infestations can lead to anemia and death.

Ticks are much less commonly found on cats than on dogs. However, cats that spend time outdoors, especially in wild areas, are often affected. Diagnosis is by appearance of tick bite marks on the animal or the presence of the parasite. Ticks that have been on an animal only a short time (an hour to a few days) appear flat. Ticks that have been on an animal for days appear much more rounded due to the blood they have consumed.

Ticks should be removed as soon as possible to minimize disease and damage. To do this, use tweezers to carefully grasp the tick close to the skin and pull gently. Never try to remove a tick with your bare hands, as some tickborne diseases (for example, Rocky Mountain spotted fever) can be immediately transmitted through breaks in the skin or contact with mucous membranes. The use of hot matches to remove ticks should also be avoided. Infested cats can be treated with anti-tick insecticides that kill all stages from nymph to adult. These can be given as spot-on solutions (which are applied on the back and spread rapidly over the entire body surface), dips, sprays, and dusts. Care should be taken in selecting the correct anti-tick product. Some products work well on dogs but are dangerous for cats. Contact your veterinarian for a prescription or a recommendation for the best tick control product for your pet.

If your cat is severely infested with ticks, you should take it to a veterinarian for tick removal. Heavy infestations will not only severely damage the skin, but can also cause anemia, paralysis, or other complications. Your veterinarian is in the best position to provide a heavily infested cat with the care it needs. A clinic stay for such pets may be likely. Even if your pet has acquired only a few ticks, you should have your pet checked for the many diseases spread by these parasites. Monitor the site(s) from which you have removed ticks. If a tick bite turns red or swollen, a prompt trip to the veterinarian is warranted.

Keeping animals away from tick prone areas is the most effective step you can take to control exposure. Most ticks live in particular microhabitats, such as tall grass or the border between wooded areas and lawns. Cleaning and clearing of these microhabitats reduces the number of ticks. Removing tall grass and weeds and trimming vegetation from your property can help protect your animal. Insecticide treatment of vegetation can slightly reduce the risk of ticks. However, it is not recommended for wide use because of environmental pollution and the cost of treating large areas.