Ticks on cats – identification & treatment

As a cat owner, you’re likely to find a tick or two in your feline’s lifetime so it's important to know how to properly remove them and the risks they carry.

Ticks are nasty little parasites that can spread infectious diseases to us and our cats. With several different species in the UK looking for the perfect feeding ground, you might find your feline friend coming home with these unpleasant hitchhikers in their fur. Here’s everything you need to know about these arachnids, the diseases they carry and how to help keep your cat safe from both.

What do ticks look like?

Ticks vary in shape, colour and size but they are generally very small until they latch onto a host and start feeding. They’re usually brown in colour before they start feeding which changes to a pearly grey once they’re plump, rounded and engorged with their host’s blood.

An engorged tick in a cat

When are ticks active?

Ticks are most active from March to October, but they’re around in the winter months, too. Because ticks are at risk of drying out, they’re typically found in long grass, rough upland and woodland areas which tend to be damp and have high humidity. All the places a cat might explore during a hunt for a quick snack!

How do ticks get on to your cat?

Ticks will rest on the tips of grasses and shrubs, waiting for their perfect host. Since they don’t fly or jump, they’ll either climb or drop onto your cat’s coat when they brush past and either attach themselves quickly or crawl through their fur to look for warmer areas before digging in.

Where do ticks bite?

Once your cat returns home from its outside adventures, it’s a good idea to check them over for ticks. It can be quite hard to find them at first as your feline friend might not show any signs of discomfort even if they’re being fed from but checking your cat can help you find a tick before it turns into anything more serious.

Ticks can be found anywhere on your cat’s body, but they particularly like to attach themselves around their:

  • Ears
  • Head
  • Neck
  • Groin
  • Armpits
  • Feet (between the toes)

How do you remove a tick from a cat?

The trick to removing a tick is in the method as it’s important to get all of the tick out, head and all, to prevent infection and the spread of diseases.

  1. Part your cat’s fur so you can see the tick
  2. Using a tick removal tool, place the hook around the base of grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible
  3. Twist the tick hook and lever it upwards so that the tick detaches from your cat’s body
  4. Make sure not to pull or squeeze the tick’s body as this can leave the head parts embedded in the skin which can cause infection and can also lead to the tick regurgitating its stomach contents into the bite wound, spreading disease

You should always use a tick removal tool that helps you remove the tick whole, so there are no parts left in your cat.

An owner using a tick removal tool on a cat

Do not use tweezers, petroleum jelly, chemicals or other means to take off the tick as this can result in infection, disease spread and discomfort for your cat.

Lyme disease, ticks and cats

Unfortunately, these nasty pests will bite and feed on your cat for a few days before dropping off once they've had enough. During this time, it's possible the tick could transmit a disease to your feline friend. One of these is Lyme disease, a serious bacterial infection that is uncommon in cats in the UK but it’s still important to be able to recognise the signs of the condition just in case.

Symptoms may include:

  • Joint pain, lameness or limping (this can shift to different legs, too)
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Discomfort or pain

In humans infected by Lyme disease, a red “bulls-eye” rash around the bite site may be found but this is not seen frequently in pets. Keep an eye out for any unusual marks, symptoms, or behaviour in your cat as signs might not appear for a few weeks after a bite.

How to prevent Lyme disease

Just like most things, prevention is better than a cure and luckily, it’s easy enough to protect your cat from ticks and other parasites that might take a liking to them. With no vaccines available to stop some of the diseases carried by these pests, it’s important to learn the best prevention methods.

  • Speak to your vet about tick prevention products. By speaking to your vet, you’ll be able to learn which product is safe and effective for your cat. Tick prevention products mean that you won’t have to worry about your feline friend bringing home one of these pesky critters.
    • Remember: never use dog prevention products on cats as they can be toxic and fatal.
  • Check your kitty for ticks every day, especially if they’ve been out and about or just come in from a wander. If you find one, remove it right away using a tick hook as described above.

There are other risks and dangers for our feline friends so it’s down to us to keep our cats as safe as we can. If you would like to identify your local tick threat, then visit the Big Tick Project UK Tick Threat Interactive map.

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