Ticks are unwelcome hitchhikers that you may find on your cat from time to time, particularly if they spend time travelling through scrubland or fields. A recent study found 6.6% of cats are infested with ticks.
Ticks are blood-sucking parasites related to spiders, they will climb vegetation and wait for a mammal to pass by, this could be a deer, hedgehog, your cat or even you. Once they have jumped onto an animal the tick will find an area of thin skin, where they will grasp on and insert their mouthparts. They excrete anti-clotting agent to prevent blood clots from stopping the flow of their blood meal. Depending on the life stage of the tick, it could attach itself to your cat for a period of one to two weeks.
Tick activity is highly seasonal with peak activity in the UK occurring in spring and early summer, with cats experiencing a second marked seasonal peak in the autumn. Recent data now shows that the current UK climate allows ticks to be active and attaching to pets throughout the year in most parts of the country, though still with marked seasonal increases.
How might my cat become infected with ticks?
In the United Kingdom, the most common species of tick likely to affect your cat is the sheep tick, Ixodes ricinus. Ticks are most often found in habitats such as heathland, moors, and woodland, there is an increased presence in deer parks due to the availability of hosts. Cats with access to the countryside, particularly where there is abundant wildlife, are at an increased risk of ticks.
How do I know if my cat has a tick?
Ticks can be tricky to spot amongst your cat’s hair. The most common areas to find ticks is on the non-hairy and thin-skinned areas, such as the face, ears, underarms and between toes. Ticks will appear as grey or brown immobile growths or wart on your pet. As they feed on blood their bodies enlarge and they become easier to identify.
The bites of ticks can cause local irritation and inflammation, if they are scratched off and mouthparts are left buried in the skin a small abscess can result. When present in very large numbers they may cause substantial blood loss in young animals causing anaemia. However, the main danger of ticks is in the infections that they can carry.
Should I be concerned about tick-borne diseases?
Tick-borne disease is caused by infectious agents living within the tick, being transferred to your cat through the tick salivary fluids. Cats tend to be more resistant to tick-borne diseases than dogs.
Lyme disease (borreliosis) is the only disease carried by UK ticks, it causes disease to humans bitten by an infected tick. Lyme disease does not appear to affect cats, however, any tick removed from your cat might be a carrier, therefore they should be disposed of carefully to ensure they do not bite any humans to spread their infection.
If your pet becomes ill after travelling abroad, ensure your vet is informed about where they have been in case they need to consider other tick-borne diseases not usually present in the United Kingdom.
How can I protect my cat from ticks?
You can protect your cat from ticks by physically removing the ticks and using preventative products.
While stroking your cat, feel all over for small lumps and bumps that could be a tick. Pets should be checked every 24 hours, particularly during the high-risk periods of spring and autumn.
Use a ‘tick remover’ to help you extract the tick. A tick remover is hook-shaped with a slot that slides either side of the tick. This should be gently twisted several times to remove the mouthparts from your cat.
Once removed examine the tick to ensure the tick is intact and there are no mouthparts still present in your cat’s skin. Dispose of the tick carefully to ensure it can not reattach itself to you or your cat. Gently clean the area after removal of the tick.
If you are unsure if what you have found is a tick, or how to remove it, your local veterinary practice will be able to help.
Use a tick control product, such as Frontline Spot On, on a regular basis to reduce the number of ticks that can attach to your cat and to reduce the chances of any ticks that do attach from spreading tick-borne diseases. You may use a tick control product all year round, but it is of the greatest importance during the peak activity times of spring and autumn.
It is difficult to restrict where your cat goes when it is outdoors, if you live near an area with a large tick population stay vigilant and ensure your pet’s tick prevention is up to date. Protect My Pet will help to ensure you never forget a dose.
Humans can also be a food source for ticks, remember to protect yourself when walking in parks and woodlands. Tuck your trousers into socks and check your legs and ankles for ticks when you get home.
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Written by Lindsay Rose MA VetMB CertAVP CertVBM MRCVS.
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