I’ve been hearing reports from friends and family members in New England that the ticks are just about out of control this summer. Maybe it was the long, cold winter, or maybe it’s just another critter population boom-bust cycle, but whatever the case, some people have said they can barely set foot outdoors without finding ticks crawling on their clothes or even embedded in their skin. And with all those ticks come tick-borne diseases.
Dogs and cats are particularly popular hosts for ticks, and because the nasty little buggers are renowned for spreading disease to people, you need the facts on the risks and what you can do to prevent your kitty from getting ticks.
Although cats can and do get bitten by deer ticks, the species notorious for carrying Lyme disease, cats don’t seem to become ill from it nearly as often as dogs and people do.
Deer ticks can carry anaplasmosis (aka Erlichia) and tularemia. Various species of dog ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, to which cats may be susceptible, and the big baddie, cytauxzoonosis ("Bobcat fever"), which is a very severe and often fatal illness.
Even if your feline friend is an indoor-only cat, you can bring ticks in on your clothing, or the family dog can get one embedded in his skin.
You’re most likely to find ticks on the front of your cat, in the areas where she can’t reach to groom herself. The top of the head, under the collar, and in the ears are popular locations for ticks to become embedded. This video demonstrates a good tick-check technique.
Don’t use oil or petroleum jelly to suffocate an embedded tick, because the reaction to asphyxiation is to release more potentially disease-carrying saliva. The same is true with holding a match to the back end of the tick.
If you yank a tick out of your cat’s skin, you’re likely to leave the mouth parts in, which can cause irritation and possible infection. Instead, use a tick twister or dull tweezers to grab the tick just behind the mouth parts and use a slow pulling and twisting technique, as demonstrated in this video. Then place the tick in a small jar of alcohol to kill it.
If you live in a high-tick area, be sure to use monthly flea and tick prevention. Ask your vet which product seems to be most effective, based on where you live and your cat’s lifestyle. Check yourself and any family dogs for ticks after outdoor excursions.
You don’t need to be terrified of ticks, but you do need to be aware of the risks and take action to prevent or treat tick infestations.
Have you seen an increase in the tick population in your area? Have you had to remove ticks from your cat? Has your cat ever developed a tick-borne illness? Share your tick stories in the comments.
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.