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How to Prevent and Treat Ticks On Cats

Two veterinarians’ pro tips for preventing your cat from picking up ticks (and how to remove them if it’s too late for that).

by Avery Felman
May 22, 2022
A cat sitting in a tall grassy area.
Laura Stolfi / Stocky

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

While ticks are certainly more common in dogs, it isn’t unheard of for cats to come into contact with the vampiric pests from time to time. Your cat is most likely to encounter ticks outdoors or if another animal brings them into the house, so it’s important to be prepared (and armed with preventatives) in the event of this occurrence. Below, we asked veterinarians Dr. Ryan Llera and Dr. Ernest Ward, how to prevent your cat from picking up ticks (and how to remove them if it’s too late for that).

But first, what are ticks?

Dr. Ryan Llera: Although ticks are commonly thought of as insects, they are actually arachnids similar to scorpions, spiders, and mites. Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of their host, which can be an animal or a human; they are efficient carriers of disease because they attach firmly when sucking blood, feed slowly, and may go unnoticed for a considerable time (up to several days) while feeding. Because cats are fastidious groomers, it is rare to see more than one or two ticks on a cat. If you observe numerous ticks, this could be a sign of illness (sick cats tend to groom less than healthy ones).

How can my cat get ticks?

Dr. Ernest Ward: Ticks wait for host animals on the tips of grasses and shrubs. When the plant is brushed by a moving animal or person, they quickly let go of the vegetation and climb onto the host. This is a process known as questing. Ticks can only crawl (up to several feet); they cannot fly or jump.

What should I do if I find a tick on my cat?

Dr. Ernest Ward: 

1. Use fine-tipped tweezers or disposable gloves to handle the tick. 

If you must use your fingers, shield them with a tissue or paper towel. Infectious agents may be contracted through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin simply by handling infected ticks. This is especially important for people who de-tick pets because ticks infesting dogs and other domestic animals can carry multiple diseases capable of infecting humans. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. This reduces the possibility of the head detaching from the body upon removal.

2. Pull the tick out straight out with steady, even pressure. 

Continue applying steady pressure even if the tick does not release immediately. It may take a minute or two of constant, slow pulling to cause the tick to release. There are also tools available called Tick Twister® or Tick Key® which can be useful. However, take care to use them cautiously as twisting or jerking the tick may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin, increasing the chances of infection.

3. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water. 

Home remedies such as applying petroleum jelly or grease, or touching the rear of the tick with a hot match do not work effectively, and are not recommended. These techniques cause the tick to salivate and can actually increase the chance of your pet getting a disease.

4. After removing the tick, you may wish to preserve it in rubbing alcohol for identification. 

Be sure to label the container with information about the time and place where the tick bite occurred. This will help you to remember details of the incident, especially if a rash or other symptoms associated with Lyme disease appear later. This information will be of help to a veterinarian or physician diagnosing an illness.

How can I prevent my cat from getting ticks?

Dr. Ryan Llera: There are many tick preventatives available commercially. They range from over-the-counter products such as powders and collars that have limited effectiveness, to stronger products that are only available through your veterinarian. Some products, especially powders, require frequent applications, while others require minimal effort on the part of the cat owner. One of the most convenient and effective products is a flea and tick preventive called Bravecto® that is simply applied topically, to the skin on the back of the neck.

It is important to never use flea and tick products meant for your dog on your cat as they can be toxic, causing your cat to have seizures. Your veterinarian will make specific recommendations to keep your cat parasite free.

Source: VCA

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Avery, editor at The Wildest, and her cat, Chicken

Avery Felman

Avery is an editor at The Wildest. She has written for numerous publications, including Refinery29, BuzzFeed, and V Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her fiancé and cat, Chicken, and has high hopes that one of them will let her adopt a dog.