Beyond Nine Lives: Keeping Ticks Off Your Pets

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This is a sponsored post by Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza.

Spring has finally sprung, and many of us are spending more time outside. Unfortunately, the blossoming of flowers and the reemergence of grasses bring with them certain risks and dangers for your cat. Chief among those are pests and parasites looking to feed on your beloved pet after a winter of dormancy.

In this article, we’ll discuss one of the most common and most dangerous: the tick.

What are ticks?

Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of their animal hosts. Though commonly called insects, ticks are arachnids, just like spiders and mites. By themselves, their bites are not generally harmful to humans or pets. However, many ticks carry diseases that can be passed directly into your cat’s bloodstream, and that can potentially be fatal. Even when those are not transmitted, the bites can still result in nasty infections.

Ticks are most prevalent in the late spring and early summer.

How do ticks get on your cat?

Ticks generally live in tall bushes or long grasses. When an animal brushes past, the parasites quickly climb onto the potential host. Once there, they proceed to bite the animal and begin sucking its blood.

Fortunately, ticks can only crawl and cannot fly or jump.

Outdoor cats are obviously more likely to pick up ticks, but indoor kitties can also get them if their owners or any other pets living in the house bring them inside.

What diseases can your cat get from a tick bite?

If you think that your cat has been bitten by a tick, please don’t hesitate to seek veterinary help immediately, as ticks can transmit several potentially fatal diseases. These include:

  • Babesia, Cytauxzoonosis and Mycoplasma, which are similar to Lyme’s Disease. Symptoms of those vary but tend to include fever, loss of appetite, jaundice and severe anemia.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Severe blood loss
  • Skin irritations and infections

How can you determine whether your cat has ticks?

Because ticks swell once they begin ingesting blood, they are generally visible to the naked eye once they get on your feline friend. However, there is always a possibility that they are obscured by your cat’s fur. So if you live in an area where ticks are common, it is a good idea to check your kitty regularly and with more than just a visual inspection.

Start by running your hands carefully over and through your cat’s fur, being especially around the ears, head and feet (where fur is thinner and the flesh more accessible to ticks). If you feel an odd bump, carefully brush your kitty’s fur aside and inspect more closely.

While dogs are often tick magnets, it is unusual to find more than one or two ticks on a cat at any given time because felines are such fastidious groomers. If you do find multiple ticks on your kitty, take it to the vet immediately, as this could signal that your cat has a more serious illness that is causing it to stop grooming properly.

How do you remove a tick?

If you find a tick on your feline friend, it is essential that you remove it immediately and carefully. And remember, you can always call your veterinarian for help in removing the tick. If possible, always handle the parasite with blunt tweezers, disposable gloves or, if no other options are available, a paper towel.

Diseases and infections can be passed to you through mucous membranes or open wounds so be sure not to touch the tick with your bare fingers.

Start by grasping the tick as close to the skin surface as possible to reduce the possibility that the head detaches from the body during the removal. Then pull the tick out with steady even pressure. Do not twist or jerk. If the tick does not release immediately, continue applying steady pressure. It may take a few minutes of slow, constant pulling to get the tick to release from its host. Once the parasite is gone, disinfect the bite area well and wash your hands with soap and water.

When disposing of the tick, do not throw it in the trash or flush it down the toilet. Neither will kill it.

Instead, drop it in a jar or container of alcohol. Be sure to make a note of the details of where and when the tick bite occurred. Because different species are prevalent in different regions of the country, knowing the particulars will help your veterinarian treat your cat more effectively should it later develop symptoms of diseases related to tick bites.

Can tick bites be prevented?

Yes. The best way to ensure that your cat stays tick-free is to keep it indoors at all times. In addition to that, there are a number of treatments that can keep parasites away. Always check with your veterinarian FIRST before using any over-the-counter tick preventative as some can be toxic and cause reactions.


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