If you are an arachnophobic cat owner, spiders aren't the only eight-legged critters you need to worry about. Ticks are parasites that live at the expense of cats, dogs and even humans. These pests can be tiny, stealthy and persistent, so it's important to check your pets often.
Tick Life Cycle
Most tick species progress through four distinct life stages during their development from egg to adult, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are exclusively parasites, so they cannot sustain themselves or grow into adults without feeding on other living things. In fact, some ticks select their hosts based on their current stage of development. Nymphs and adult ticks tend to go after larger organisms, like you or your cat, while younger larvae often prefer birds. They actively seek out hosts by following odors or reacting to motion, so your cat is always at risk of bringing one home after an outdoor excursion.
Once a tick has found its way on to your cat's skin, which he can do by dropping on him from a tree or crawling up his leg, it will seek out a safe place to dig in. While ticks can latch on to your pet's skin just about anywhere, they tend to seek sheltered areas that don't get moved or disturbed much. Your kitty's belly, neck and ears are very appealing to parasites. Once they find a good spot, ticks use their sharp mouths to pierce your pet's skin and draw blood into their bag-like bodies. Some ticks can inflate to many times their original size if they feed long enough.
A single tick feeding on your pet probably won't cause any symptoms of blood loss. The amount of blood a single adult tick can consume is miniscule compared to an adult cat's total supply, although a very young kitten may be in danger of losing too much blood. The real danger of ticks is their ability to transmit diseases. If you recently found ticks on your cat and he is showing symptoms of illness -- like lethargy, lack of appetite or weight loss -- then he may have contracted one of the many pathogens these parasites can carry. Get your kitty to the vet for a checkup right away. Some of these diseases can be cured if treated early enough. Pathogens spread by ticks in the United States include cat scratch and Lyme diseases, both of which can infect humans.
So what can you do to stop ticks in their tracks? Well, there's no way to stop ticks from finding your cat if he goes outside for even a few minutes a day. Indoor cats are at a much lower risk of infestation, although ticks can find their way indoors on your clothes and other pets. You can search your cat for tick's by rubbing your fingers through his fur to the skin across his entire body. You should check your pet at least once a week or perhaps even daily if he spends a lot of time outdoors. Investigate small bumps by parting the fur around the area to expose the skin. Ask your vet about products that discourage or kill ticks and eliminate their eggs. Outdoor cats in southern states and wooded parts of the Northeast are the most likely to bring home a tick or two, according to the ASPCA.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.