Ticks are tiny arachnids, or eight-legged, spineless creatures, that attach to the skin of mammals such as dogs, deer, rodents and cats, and feed on their host's blood. While feeding on infected animals, ticks become carriers of various diseases, and can infect the next animal they bite -- which could be your cat. Keeping your cat indoors and out of tick range is the best defense, but what if a tick finds its way onto your cat anyway? Here's what you need to know to successfully tackle the tick problem.
How Cats Get Ticks
Ticks thrive in wooded areas, tall grass and shrubs, and near water. They are especially thick during spring and fall. They drop onto animals that brush by vegetation. Resembling tiny bumps, ticks stay aboard their chosen animal by burrowing their heads into the skin. Rural and outdoor cats are most at risk for ticks, but indoor cats can get also them if someone comes into the home with ticks on her clothing. Once attached to your cat, a tick will gorge on your pet's blood, expanding its body size over several days. After the tick is full, it disengages and falls to the ground.
The Dangers of Ticks
Besides making your cat uncomfortable, ticks can transmit a number of serious and contagious diseases, both viral and bacterial, into your pet's bloodstream when it bites. Most of these diseases are characterized by similar symptoms, including fever, bleeding, poor appetite and a low platelet count.
Ticks can cause hypersensitivity and anemia in cats, and impact the feline immune, lymphatic and nervous systems. Cats can also contract the widely known Lyme disease from ticks, though this is less common. Signs of Lyme disease in cats include lethargy, dehydration, swollen lymph nodes and joint swelling.
Keeping Ticks Away
The best way to prevent ticks from latching onto your cat is to keep him indoors year round. Even cats that go outside in an enclosed area are vulnerable to ticks, so inspect yours carefully after every outing and remove ticks promptly. Treat your cat with a tick-preventative spray or powder and make sure he wears a flea and tick collar. Keep your lawn mowed, and your bushes trimmed, because ticks are attracted to taller grasses and shrubs. Treat the garden areas with a pet-safe insecticide. Inside your home, inspect your carpet, closets, furniture, walls, drapery, baseboards and storage areas for ticks and treat if necessary.
The Right Way to Remove Ticks
Despite your best efforts, there may be times when your cat gets ticks. To get rid of them, use fine-tipped tweezers. Place the tweezers close to the skin and firmly grasp the tick's head. Without twisting, pull it straight out. Do not crush or squeeze the tick's body, which will flood the cat's bloodstream with harmful bacteria. Getting rid of the tick by dropping it in the toilet doesn't work -- air sacs allow a tick to survive being dumped into water. Instead, place it in a jar of insecticide or rubbing alcohol. Because ticks can carry so many diseases, protect yourself from contact by wearing gloves and thoroughly wash your hands after you're finished.
Signs of Tick Infection
After removing a tick from your cat, inspect and clean the area of the tick bite with an antiseptic. The bite area may itch, causing the cat to scratch or chew at it, so check regularly to be sure it isn't irritated or abscessed. Monitor your cat carefully after removing ticks, because symptoms of tick-borne diseases may not show up for several days or weeks. If the cat develops a fever, loses his appetite, seems lethargic or has stiffness in his limbs, he may have contracted a disease carried by ticks. Your vet should see the cat and determine the best treatment.