Ticks are small parasites that feed on the blood of animals, including cats and people. The Big Tick Project identified ticks on 6.6% of all cats visiting vet practices in the UK. Cats of any age or breed can get tick bites, but cats who go outdoors are at most risk. Ticks can spread a serious illness called Lyme disease.
Ticks are the size of tiny seeds when they first latch on to your cat. They stay attached to grow and feed for up to 5 days. Ticks can transfer disease by passing infections between animals when they feed on their blood. They have 8 legs and look a bit like spiders. Lyme disease is the most serious disease spread by ticks in the UK. However, Lyme disease is still very rare in cats and much rarer than in dogs. Irritation or infection at the site of a tick bite is a much more common problem.
What to do
What to do if your cat has a tick
You’re most likely to find a tick on your cat in Spring and Autumn when ticks are most active. But warmer wetter weather with climate change means ticks are a year-round problem. Once a tick attaches, it takes 1-3 days for bacteria to be transferred from the tick to the animal they are feeding on.
- Check your pet at the end of each day. If you find a tick, it’s best to remove it as soon as possible.
- Use a special tick-removing tool
- Gently twist the tick at its base, between the body and the skin
- Check the whole tick is removed, including the mouthparts, as it’s important not to leave them inside your cat’s skin
- Dispose of ticks safely, ideally wearing gloves.
- Bathe the site of the tick bite with warm salt water (1 teaspoon of salt to one pint of warm water) or an antiseptic solution such as chlorhexidine (Hibiscrub) for 3-5 days
If mouth parts are still in your cat’s skin:
- Try to remove the mouthparts with tweezers if you can see them
- Continue to bathe the bite with salt water or antiseptic
- Check for signs of infection. including redness, swelling, pain or licking
- Mouthparts will usually come out eventually
How cats get ticks
Ticks can’t fly, jump or spin webs. They get onto cats by climbing up blades of grass so they can latch on to them as they brush past. Cats are most likely to pick up ticks if they go outside and city cats are at relatively greater risk.
- The city culprit is the hedgehog tick, Ixodes hexagonus
- The Hedgehog tick is the most common one found on UK cats
- Cats who hunt or explore in woodland, moorland and fields shared with wildlife or grazing animals may pick up the sheep or deer tick, Ixodes ricinus
- Certain areas of the UK are ‘higher-risk’ areas, including the South West of England, East Anglia, the Scottish Highlands and Islands and Northern England.
You can find out the risk of ticks in your area by looking up an interactive map created from the Big Tick Study
Ticks that are not native to the UK are surviving more easily in our changing climate. Pet travel and imported cats increase the risk of these parasites and diseases they carry entering the UK.
When to worry
When to worry about your cat having ticks
Ticks don’t usually cause disease themselves, but they may carry bacteria and other microbes that do cause dangerous illnesses. Lyme disease is the most serious and common disease transmitted through tick bites in the UK. Around 2.5-5 % of ticks in the UK carry Lyme Disease.
Cats who get bitten by infected ticks are very resistant to developing illness from Lyme disease. A very small number of cats may develop more symptoms of more serious illness, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy (tiredness)
- Lameness and painful joints in one or more limbs
- Enlarged lymph glands
- Life-threatening kidney disease (although this is very rare)
- Symptoms may develop up to 4 weeks after a tick bite
Other rare diseases which can be spread by ticks include babesiosis, tick-borne fever and ehrlichiosis.
What ticks look like
Ticks often look like small lumps or skin tags and it can be hard to tell the difference.
Call a vet if you have found any unexplained lump which grows rapidly
Joii can help with:
- Identifying ticks
- Choosing the best tick preventive treatment for your cat
- How to remove a tick safely
- What to do if the bite looks red or irritated
- Recognising signs and risks of Lyme Disease
Tips on how to prevent your cat from getting ticks
There are treatments readily available to repel and/or kill ticks on pets. However, no treatment is 100% effective. So it’s essential to check your pet every day for ticks.
Ticks will still bite your cat even if you’ve used a preventive treatment. The tick will die within 12-24hours, which is too soon for it to spread disease to your cat.
- Tick preventive treatments include spot-on treatments, sprays and tablets
- Treatments last between four and twelve weeks.
- There is also a special collar for cats called “Seresto”, which lasts for 8 months and is ideal for cats who travel abroad.
- The ‘best’ option depends on your cat’s lifestyle and how easy it is to give them pills.
- Some pets just won’t take tablets!
Never give dog medication to cats. This can be extremely dangerous for your cat.
Things to look out for
Tick bites aren’t painful unless they get infected, so your cat is unlikely to alert you. Check them over at the end of each day!
- To begin with, ticks look like tiny dark skin tags or moles
- Look carefully for a gap between the base of the lump and the body.
- You may see the legs of the tick and part of the mouthparts entering your cat
- After feeding on blood, ticks grow to resemble a smooth grey, bluish or brown coffee bean
Common locations for ticks on cats:
- Paws and legs
Home remedies to deal with ticks on your cat
It’s best to remove ticks as soon as you find them. If you don’t have a tick remover, try the following:
- Use blunt-ended tweezers instead.
- Remove larger ticks with your fingers.
- Gently grasp the tick at the base of the body, next to your cat’s skin.
- Draw back gently.
- Check the whole tick has been removed.
What not to do if your cat has a tick
The following methods should never be used to remove ticks:
- Covering with Vaseline
- Dousing with white spirit
These actions make the tick eject its stomach contents into your pet before they die and increase the risk of infections.
Vet treatment for ticks in cats
- Vets can prescribe the strongest forms of products to prevent ticks and other parasites
- Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory creams and ointments can settle skin irritation from tick bites
- Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics
- The sooner cats with symptoms of Lyme Disease are treated, the better their chances of complete recovery.
Cats at higher risk of getting ticks
The following factors increase your cat’s risk of getting a tick:
- Hunting where livestock graze or deer are common
- Having long hair, which also makes ticks harder to find
- Living in the city
- Living in parts of the country where ticks are most common
Is my family at risk?
- Humans and other pets won’t catch Lyme Disease from an infected cat.
- Humans and other pets are also at risk of tick bites if they go to the same places for walks.
- Cats can bring ticks into the house but ticks rarely spread between other pets or humans.