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How To Know If Your Cat's Dealing With Ticks

The Dodo logo The Dodo 10/25/2021 Sam Schwab

If you notice a small lump on your cat while petting her and discover it’s a tick after looking closer, you might get a little freaked out.

You’ll know your cat has ticks if you feel lumps on her body and you can see ticks attached to her skin. After a tick feeds on a cat, it’s possible for cats to become infected with a tick-borne illness, which can lead to symptoms like lameness, lethargy and fever.

The Dodo reached out to Dr. Victoria Wellington, a veterinarian at Veterinary Care Group Williamsburg in New York, to find out everything you need to know about dealing with tick bites on cats.

What are ticks?

Ticks are parasites that attach to an animal’s skin to feed on their blood, and can stay attached for days at a time. Ticks can feed on humans and most animals, including cats.

There are about 850 different kinds of ticks in the world, and around 100 of these tick species can spread diseases to their hosts (aka the person or animal the tick attaches to). Luckily, tick-borne illnesses are rarer in cats than they are in dogs or people (but it’s still a possibility).

Ticks vs. fleas

While both ticks and fleas feed on the blood of their hosts, there are some key differences between the two.

Fleas can live on your cat for their entire lifespan, feeding and reproducing, while ticks will jump off after latching on for a few days. Ticks feed by latching on for days at a time, while fleas will make single, repeated, quick bites to get their blood meal.

How to know if your cat has a tick

In most cases, you’ll first discover a tick is latched onto your cat when you’re petting her and feel a small bump. But some tick bites go undetected if a cat has a lot of fur or if the tick gets full and falls off before you’re able to find it.

If you think your cat has been exposed to a tick or was in a high-tick area (for example, if she goes outside), you can try to check for ticks proactively. Ticks are more likely to successfully bite on the head, neck and upper back of cats (especially since cats can’t exactly reach those areas while grooming), so you can check for ticks on your cat by parting her fur in these locations.

You can also catch ticks before they latch on by brushing her fur with a flea comb, especially after she goes outside or if you think you brought some inside from the outdoors.

Try this tick-removal set with a flea comb from Amazon for $10.90

How to remove a tick from a cat

If you do find a tick who’s latched on to your cat, you can try to remove the tick yourself at home — but it needs to be done carefully, so make sure to read through the steps below first.

You can use regular tweezers or a tick-removal tool to remove a tick from your cat.

To remove a tick with tweezers, grasp the tick against the skin and slowly but firmly pull the tick out with a twisting or arcing motion. Make sure you don’t squeeze the tick or you could cause tick body parts to break off in your cat.

You should also make sure you don’t pull the tick straight out, and instead use that arching or twisting motion. If you pull straight out, part of the tick can get stuck on your cat and cause an infection.

Try this TickCheck Premium Tick Remover Kit from Amazon for $12.95

After removing the tick, you can use a pet-safe antiseptic wipe to clean the area.

Try Pet MD antiseptic wipes from Amazon for $12.99

If you find a tick, make sure to remove it as soon as possible! The longer a tick is on your cat, the more likely it is that your cat will be infected with a tick-borne illness.

If you think you’ve removed the tick incorrectly — or your cat starts showing signs of illness — you should take your cat to the vet right away.

Tick-borne disease symptoms

Fortunately, cats are more resistant to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease than some other animals (like dogs or people) are. But cats can still get Lyme disease from ticks on occasion, as well as other tick-borne diseases — including hemobartonellosis, cytauxzoonosis and tularemia.

Symptoms of tick-borne illness in cats can include:

  • Lameness
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Pale gums
  • Abnormal breathing
If you notice any of these signs — whether or not you know your cat has been bitten by a tick — you should make an appointment with your veterinarian ASAP.

“Talk to your vet as soon as you think there may be a problem with your cat and you suspect something is wrong,” Dr. Wellington told The Dodo. “Your vet is your best resource if you think your cat is dealing with ticks.”

Tick diseases in cats

Cats are susceptible to the following tick-borne diseases:

  • Lyme disease
  • Hemobartonellosis
  • Cytauxzoonosis
  • Tularemia
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Babesiosis
While these diseases are somewhat rare, they’re all potentially fatal for cats if not treated early enough.

Where do ticks live in the world?

Ticks can be found in every region of the U.S., though some regions may have a higher likelihood of certain species of tick.

“[It] depends on the tick,” Dr. Wellington said. “Some regions have more or less, and based upon seasonal changes, ticks may be more common one year to the next. The factors are endless. Your best bet is to ask your veterinarian about the status of ticks in your area at springtime.”

Tick prevention for cats

The best way to prevent ticks from bothering your cat is with an effective tick prevention medication.

Many flea treatments already include a tick preventative, and can either come in a topical formula that’s applied to the back of your cat’s neck or in a chewable tablet.

These medications typically need to be administered monthly. Speak to your vet about the best option for your cat, but these two brands are frequently recommended by vets:

Try Revolution topical cat flea and tick treatment from Chewy for $130.05

Or try Credelio chewable flea and tick treatment from Chewy for $101.99

Keep in mind that even cats who live exclusively indoors can still get ticks — so it’s super important that your cat is on a reliable tick preventative. (And that goes for any dogs in your house, too!)

Keeping your cats and other pets on a reliable tick preventative is totally worth it, and will ensure your pets stay happy, healthy and tick-free for the rest of their lives.

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