Fleas are one thing, but if you're petting your cat and come across a tick, well, it's a whole different ball game -- that thing is attached! Ticks are small, blood-sucking insects that bury their mouth parts in the skin of warm-blooded animals. Once a tick begins to feed, its body expands. A gorged tick may look like a small mole or a roundish bump of odd-colored flesh. They're usually found on bushes or low trees, and drop onto passing animals -- like your cat.
Ticks aren't just disgusting, they're potentially dangerous. Because their mouths make contact with the bloodstream of their hosts, ticks can transmit serious diseases, including Lyme disease and similar illnesses. That's why they have to be removed as soon as possible -- and with their entire body intact. The longer the tick is embedded, the greater the risk of spreading disease. It's vital that the whole tick is removed because any part left behind could still contain infectious matter.
If you find a tick on your cat's body, remove it immediately (while wearing gloves). The best way to do this is to grasp the tick at the skin line with a pair of forceps or tweezers. Try to grasp the tick by the head and pull gently and steadily straight out from the cat's body. Forget trying to burn it (you will probably just burn your cat instead) or smother it by applying cream or petroleum jelly. Physical removal is the way to go.
Ticks are hardy creatures. When you remove one, don't assume it's dead or that you'll be rid of it by throwing it away or flushing it. They can crawl back out of trash cans and bathroom fixtures, ready to attach themselves to the next mammal that happens by (including you). Throwing them outdoors gets them out of your house, but you may just be passing the problem along to someone else. Put the tick in a sealed jar with alcohol and keep the jar in case your cat develops a complication from the bite.
The tick may be gone, but it's not over yet. Read on to find out why you need to keep an eye on your cat after removing the tick -- and how to prevent your cat from acquiring an unwanted, parasitic stowaway in the future.
Preventing Ticks on Your Cat
Once you remove a tick from your cat, keep a close eye on him for the next week or so. Contact your veterinarian at the first sign of sickness, especially fever, loss of appetite, listlessness, apparent stiffness or aching in the joints. The bite location can also become infected. In rare cases, the tick bite itself can cause a progressive weakness in the back legs of the cat, a condition called tick-bite paralysis. Although this usually goes away on its own within 24 to 72 hours after the tick is removed, it can require IV fluids or additional support from your vet's office. That's why you should see a vet for this, rather than wait to see if it clears up.
Removing a tick from your cat is a traumatic experience for any cat owner. The best way to treat ticks, therefore, is to prevent them from attaching in the first place. Keep in mind that indoor cats almost never get ticks, unless they're carried in by other pets, pests or people. If your cat does go outdoors on a leash, steer him away from tall grasses and bushes. Free-roaming cats should be checked regularly for ticks when they come indoors, especially during hot weather and in rural areas. Ticks are small and can be easily missed, so be particularly aware of symptoms any time your cat goes outdoors -- even if you don't see any ticks.
If your cat isn't on a flea treatment program, take him or her to your vet for a prescription. Many products that prevent fleas also prevent ticks and other parasites. This goes for the other pets in your household as well. Another way to keep ticks away from your pets in general is to keep down the rodent population around your house because they can carry ticks as well.
Ticks are nasty little creatures, but these tips should provide you with effective tools for keeping them off your cat.
- ASPCA. "Cat Care: Ticks." ASPCA. 2011. (April 19, 2011)http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/ticks.aspx
- Companion Animal Parasite Control. "Ticks on Cats." CAPC. 2011. (April 19, 2011)http://www.petsandparasites.org/cat-owners/ticks.html
- Eldredge, Debra M., et al. "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook." Howell Book House. Dec. 10, 2007.
- Griffin, Morgan R. "Natural Insect Control: Flea and Tick Treatments for Pets." WebMD. Sept. 25, 2009. (April 19, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/health-ehome-9/flea-tick-control-for-pets
- Pet Place Veterinarians. "Tick Bite Paralysis." Intelligent Content Corp. 2011. (April 20, 2011)http://www.petplace.com/dogs/tick-bite-paralysis/page1.aspx