By Kate Hughes
Of all the creepy crawlies you might find on your cat, ticks may be the creepiest and crawliest. These parasites give many owners the willies, and with pretty good cause—they carry several diseases that could have a severe negative effect on your cat’s health. It’s imperative that owners not just keep a weather eye out for these pests, but also take a proactive approach to finding, removing, and preventing them.
What Are the Dangers of Ticks on Cats?
When it comes to ticks, it stands to reason that cats who go outdoors—even when supervised—are much more at risk than their indoor brethren. However, just because your cat doesn’t go outside doesn’t mean she can’t pick up ticks. “If you have a dog, it’s entirely possible for ticks to hitch a ride into your house on the dog, fall off, and then grab on to your cat as she walks by,” explains Dr. Daniel Morris, a professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia.
Like humans, cats can acquire several diseases through the bite of an infected tick. Lyme disease is a common tick-borne disease in people and dogs, but thankfully cats are quite resistant. Of greater concern is hemobartonellosis, which is caused by bacteria transmitted through tick bites that can cause a potentially fatal anemia in cats, says Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary advisor for petMD. Another tick-borne disease, bobcat fever, does not affect humans or dogs but can be fatal for cats if left untreated. Symptoms include anemia, depression, high fever, difficulty breathing, and jaundice. Other conditions, like tularemia, cytauxzoonosis, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis are also transmitted to cats through tick bites, Coates adds.
How to Check a Cat for Ticks
If your cat goes outside, or you find a tick on your dog or around the house, it may be time to do a thorough feline tick check. Luckily, because their fur is so dense, it can be difficult for ticks to attach to a cat. That said, there are certain body parts that are more hospitable to ticks than others.
“Around the head, as well as on the ears, cheeks, and eyelids are places you’ll often find ticks on cats,” says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a staff doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center who specializes in small animal internal medicine and oncology. “This is because there’s not as much hair on these places as there is on other parts of your kitty’s body.” She adds that ticks may also latch on to your cat’s belly.
Morris agrees, adding that if a cat wears a collar, owners should also check under it to make sure there are no ticks hiding where the cat can’t reach and the owner can’t see.
Hohenhaus also notes that many of the places that you would find ticks on a cat match up to where you might find them on a dog, but there is one difference. “On a dog, you may find ticks between their toes. I don’t think that’s as common in cats. The area is much smaller, and cats are always cleaning between their toes. There just isn’t as much of an opportunity for a tick to latch on.”
Preventing Tick Bites on Cats
Searching for ticks can be difficult, but if you have any concerns that your cat could have picked up one of these little critters, doing a full body check is in order. Flea combs help because the teeth of the comb are so close together. However, cats may not be too keen on getting a full-body comb over.
“It pulls on the cat’s fur and the cat doesn’t like it that much,” Hohenhaus says. She recommends brushing your cat every day and incorporating the tick check into this routine. “Remember, you have to find a brush that works for your cat. If he doesn’t enjoy being brushed, it’s going to make things much more difficult for both of you.”
Both Morris and Hohenhaus agree that when it comes to preventing tick bites, treating cats with a flea and tick medication is the way to go. “There are some cases where it might not be useful,” Hohenhaus says. “For example, if the cat lives on the 32nd floor of a high-rise apartment building in Manhattan, that cat is unlikely to get ticks. However, if you have an indoor cat but live in a wooded area, it is better to be safe than sorry and use a preventative medication.”