Safeguard Your Pets Against Ticks

They’re dangerous and disgusting. Here’s what you can do to protect your cat — and how to recognize the warning signs.

Ticks are tenacious. They creep up tall grass, weeds and fences — waiting until a passing shadow, a vibration, an odor or even a whiff of exhaled carbon dioxide tells them a possible host might be passing by. Then they let go of their perch and fall, or reach out with their front legs to snag hold of a furry coat (or a pant leg). Once on board, they insert their mouths into their prey and begin their meal. During this feeding, tick saliva mixes with the host’s blood.

Disease Carriers. As a result of this transfer of fluids, ticks rival mosquitoes as carriers of disease to both human and animal. Although ticks are most often associated with Lyme Disease, they can also transmit ehrlichiosis (similar to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) and tularemia (Rabbit Fever) to cats. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you see any of the warning signs that your pet has contracted a tick-transmitted disease, such as fever, lameness, swelling in the joints or glands, listlessness, loss of appetite, loss of coordination, or difficulty with breathing, chewing or swallowing.

Carolyn McDaniel, DVM, a Clinical Sciences lecturer at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says that “tick control is a very important part of preventive medicine for dogs and cats in areas with ticks.” Because a vast number of tick control products are available, with some of them containing dangerous pesticides, including pyrethrin (pyrethroid), organophosphate insecticides and carbamates, Dr. McDaniel urges pet owners to consult with their veterinarians to come up with a tick prevention program tailored to their animals. “For animals at risk of tick exposure this will always include a tick prevention product along with avoiding high risk natural areas when possible, and daily tick checks,” she says.

The ideal tick prevention method for cats is to keep them indoors. If your cat does go outside, always consult a veterinarian before using any tick product on your pet. Never use a product intended for a dog on a cat. Cats will ingest more of topical products because of their frequent grooming, so it’s essential to follow instructions exactly. And don’t use pesticides on a pet that is elderly, pregnant, ill or very young unless your veterinarian has instructed you to do so.

Natural tick deterrents exist, such as Geranium, American Pennyroyal or Neem seed oil, but Dr. McDaniel notes that there are “are no dependable studies showing any efficacy of many of them, and they have their own potential risks. Unfortunately, they are often used by well-meaning owners without the benefit of first receiving veterinary advice.”

Checking your pet daily for ticks can make all the difference, since a tick has to be feeding for longer than 24 hours to transmit Lyme Disease. If your cat likes to be groomed, make the tick check part of its daily grooming. You should pay particular attention to the paws, face, ears, mouth area and genitals, although ticks can attach anywhere. Sometimes your pet’s behavior will indicate where a tick is hiding, as in the case when a cat chews at its paw because of a tick between the pads.

Many of the folk methods for getting a tick to release its hold can do far more harm than good. For the sake of you and your cat’s health, play it safe and carefully follow the directions of your veterinarian for tick removal.