Ticks is the common general name for number of species of Arthropods in the subclass ACARI. All ticks are parasitic and require blood for completion of their life cycle. They have evolved specialized mouth pieces to pierce skin and to suck blood from their hosts. Tick have substances that numb as they embed themselves and often the host is completely unaware they are being bitten. Some also have anti-coagulant substances that keep the blood flowing rather than clotting and cutting off their supply.
The many ticks varieties are not fussy about who they bite and can choose birds, small and large mammals including humans. Some tick will bite snakes and other animals.
Ticks are found world-wide except in areas that are permanently cold, where their life cycle cannot be completed.
The most common tick found on cats is Ixodes scapularis, the deer tick or black legged tick. It accounts for over 50 of all ticks reported on cats in the US.
Male and Female Mature dog ticks I found crawling on me as I worked in the garden.
Occasionally other species are also found on cats.
Although females predominate in ticks found on cats, males also bite. Both mature and immature ticks bite and can carry diseases.
Ticks are found on cats in all months that are not freezing. During warm ups ticks can become active. I've kept ticks in the freezer, only to see them come to life upon thawing. The most active months were spring, May-June and fall, October-November.
Diseases carried by cat ticks.
Ticks are good at transmitting disease because they actually can transfer blood from one animal to another.
There are over 800 species of ticks world-wide, but only a few are significant to cat diseases.
The best known cat disease carried by ticks, is Lyme disease. It is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and carried mostly by Deer Ticks, It can cause joint damage, heart problems, kidney failure, and nerve problems. Luckily cats are very resistant to Lyme disease and are not often infected.
Deer ticks are also often infected with Anaplasma phagocytophilum which causes Anaplasmosis in cats.
Lone Star ticks carry Ehrlichia chaffeensis which causes ehrlichiosis in humans and cats as well as other mammals.
Another disease carried by ticks and mosquitoes is hemobartonellosis. It attacks the cats red blood cells and causes severe anemia. The cat will be lethargic, will show signs of anemia such as pale gums, will have no appetite, and will show rapid often open mouth breathing.
Tetracycline and doxycycline are used and have been successful particularly in the early stages of the diseases.
Much rarer but often deadly, is cytauxzoonosis. It is caused by a parasitic protozoan, Cytauxzoon felis. Symptoms are similar to hemobartonellosis, with anemia, lethargy, breathing problems and fever. In the wild it is carried by bobcats and transmitted by ticks, in particular the Lone Star Tick.
Tularemia also known as rabbit fever, is not often seen but is very serious and unless treated early can be deadly. It can be transmitted by contact with an infected animal or by ticks mites, fleas or mosquito bites. Symptoms are fever, enlarged lymph nodes and abscesses.
Some varieties of ticks inject substances that can cause paralysis or that can be toxic in various degrees. Link to Pet MD article on Tick Paralysis in Cats. In North America, cattle are more prone to this than cats and dogs but in other parts of the world ticks can cause paralysis.
Here is an article by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about human Tickborne Diseases of the United States.
What do ticks look like?
Underside of a tick. The mouthpieces are clearly visible and on the end of their feet, they have a very floppy softer pad that allows them to easily cling to slippery surfaces such as smooth glass.
Immature ticks and small ticks that have not fed look like flat spiders.
This one blew on my deck during a strong wind. He had a very strong cling.
When the tick first attaches itself, and has not had the chance to feed, it looks and feels like a small scab.
A single tick is not painful because it numbs the area somewhat.
Ticks in their early stages are very tiny and hard to see. These are as small as poppy seeds before they have fed. As they mature they grow and can be about 3/8 of an inch across.
Because the ticks can be very tiny, they can hide really well in a cat's coat. If your cat goes out then it's important to check them over regularly. Look in the fur and in the ears where ticks also like to attach themselves.
After feeding a tick engorges many times its original size and look like a brown-gray oval with legs and head mostly hidden under their body. They have a very strong attachment and can be quite hard to dislodge.
Where can ticks be found
Ticks like long grass, brush and will go up in trees to quite some height. They can be carried by small mammals such as squirrels, or by some birds, so their range can be quite wide.
If they don't get carried anywhere they will be up in grass or brush waiting for an animal or bird to pass by so they can jump on. Once they are on they can cling very effectively and quickly attach themselves. I've noticed that on a human they will walk around until they find a good spot, presumably near a blood vessel.
When cats go out on a hunt, they are often looking for mice and chipmunks and end up where the ticks are waiting for a meal.
Smaller ticks can be knocked down from trees by wind. That happens here quite a lot and I find ticks crawling all over my porch when it's windy.
When scientists are trying to find and count ticks they often pull sticks with white cloth dragging behind, in tall grass. They can also be captured in nets brushed against bushes and short plants. This kind of collection method will also collect all kinds of insects, caterpillars and grubs and is great fun to do. (watch out for the ticks though.)
One of the reasons that farmers and country folk cut grass down in what seems like overly large lawns, is that it controls ticks and mosquitoes.My page on how to check your cat for ticks and how to remove them.
Life Cycle of the Tick
I live around Lake Erie and our main ticks are the dog tick and the deer or black legged tick that can carry lyme disease.
Tick have 3 stages to their development. The whole cycle from egg to death can take 2 years.
Eggs are laid in the spring and hatch in early summer when tiny larvae emerge. They are most active in August. They wait on the ground for a chance to attach themselves to a mouse, chipmunk or bird, where they feed for the first and only time.
Because larvae only feed once and are not infected when they are hatched, they are not dangerous.
The tick larvae have a good feed then drop down into the vegetation. They molt into nymphs in the fall. Nymphs overwinter and in the spring, when the weather has warmed some, they start looking for a host. They can climb a small way up on vegetation. When a suitable host come by, a mouse, chipmunk, or other mammal including humans or cats, the nymph attaches itself to the host and has another good meal. Because the nymph might be infected if its previous host was infected, nymphs can carry diseases. They are very tiny before they have eaten, as small as a millimeter. Tick nymphs are most active in the late spring and early summer.
It might take a few days for the nymph to become fully engorged with blood and during that time it can transmit disease. It takes about 36 hours exposure for humans to get lyme disease but other diseases can be transmitted in just a few hours.
Ticks are not born carrying lyme but if they bite an infected animal they become infected and can transmit the disease.
Because they are so small and hard to notice many cases of Lyme disease comes from nymphs rather than the larger more easily seen adults.
The well fed nymph then drops to the ground into the vegetation and moults into its final stage, the adult tick.
During the fall, the adult looks for a suitable host. It is quite capable of climbing 3 or more feet in branches and tall grass. Deer is the favoured prey at this stage but most mammals will do including cats, dogs, humans and farm animals.
Adults are most active in the fall. They clutch the plants with their rear legs ready to grab on to their next meal with their front legs.
Female adult ticks feed for 5-8 days and can mate either while still attached or after jumping off. They lay about 3000 eggs under vegetation and leaf mould, these will hatch in the early summer. The eggs can be light brown to black.
If the adult has not managed to get a blood meal in the fall, it can become active during a warm spell and attach itself to an animal in the winter.
Because of their life cycle, cold weather does not kill ticks.
If a tick lays its eggs in a warm place such as a house or a barn, it is possible for it to develop over the winter and not go dormant as usual for outside ticks.
How do you prevent tick infestation in Cats?
The easiest most effective way is to keep your cat inside. Ticks can still come in on your clothes, or hitch a ride on a dog that goes out, but this is more unlikely.
The next best thing is preventing infection. Keep the grass short and cut back brush near the house. Have a serious talk with your cat and convince him to avoid long grass and brush. You're a better person than I if you can persuade your cat to stay out of the brush though.
When I lived in Korea, one morning I woke to smell lots of smoke in the air. It was late fall I think. When I asked, I was told that this was the proper time in the lunar calendar to burn the dead grass. This kills the bad bugs including ticks. It also kills good bugs and other things but apparently it works.
Discourage mice, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, deer and small mammals from coming near the house by keeping food away. Keep bird feeders and garbage at a distance.
Some birds such as chickens, ducks and guinea fowl will happily eat ticks as they forage.
I found this funny article about 5 reasons NOT to keep Guinea Fowl I can vouch for the loud.
Opossums have developed a very good reputation as tick eating mammals and they should be left unmolested to go after all the ticks they like.
Many insecticides have been developed to control ticks. Because cats are very poor at eliminating poisons, only products sold for cats should be used. These should be used exactly as the instructions say for this reason.
Some of the drops that are applied to the back and are used for fleas also kill ticks, use products that contain pyrethrin, imidacloprid, or fipronil. NEVER USE ANYTHING THAT CONTAINS PERMETHRIN, AMITRAZ OR ORGANOPHOSPHATES ON CATS. It can be used on DOGS NEVER ON CATS. Cats cannot deal with the poisons and will die. Sometimes just being in contact with a dog that has been treated is enough to seriously hurt a cat. NOTE: Hartz Mountain has had a bad reputation and their drops should Not be used for cats.
There are many products sold to control ticks such as sprays, shampoos and powders. They are often bundled as tick and flea control. You must carefully read the labels to make sure they do not contains bad ingredients (PERMETHRIN, AMITRAZ OR ORGANOPHOSPHATES) and that they are intended for cats.
Collars are not all that effective, they work for around the neck but not for the whole cat. They can also poison and irritate the skin. Stay away from collars that contain propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos, as well as the other nasty ingredients listed above. Don't use any collar intended for dogs on a cat.
If you use a spray or powder don't let your cat breathe the dust or for that matter don't breathe it in either. These are nasty chemicals that can hurt you or your kids.
I use Bravecta for ticks and fleas at the beginning of the tick season in Spring. As far as I know it's the only tick drops available so far in Canada. One application between the shoulder blades last for 3 months. After that I revert back to my regular Advantage II since there doesn't seem to be many ticks in the Summer and Fall. I guess it depends on your area. In the US frontline work for tick and cats: Frontline Plus for Cats and Kittens (1.5 pounds and over) Flea and Tick Treatment, 6 Doses, for small Dogs: Frontline Plus Flea and Tick Treatment for Dogs 8 Month Supply (0-22 LB)
Tick Control Tablets
CapGuard Flea Tablets for Dogs and Cats 2 - 25lbs control flea and ticks.
Capstar Flea Control Tablets contain nitenpyram which is a drug rather than a pesticide. It has been effective in killing ticks in dogs and cats. There are several different tablets marketed for dogs but they have not been approved for cats. Check with your vet.
NOTE: If you buy tick or flea products online be aware that there is an active fake industry. If the deal is really good then it's probably a fake. The good brands do not discount their products. Read the comments.
Link to my page on checking a cat for ticks and on how to remove them.
If you find a lot of ticks on your cat, get what you can off and go to plan B and use an insecticide.
There are many claims of substances that act as deterrent, they have not been shown to be very effective for any period of time and many of the bug sprays or essential oils suggested, are dangerous for cats. Check the label carefully. Do not use permethrin on cats ever.
This article is provided for information only. It is not to be used instead of consulting a VET. If your kitty is sick get some help.