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Checking your cat for Ticks

Now that the weather has changed and there are signs that it might even be spring, it's time to start checking for ticks and using preventative measures such as between-the-shoulder drops. Even if you are using drops of collars the tick still has the time to attach itself and infect your cat with several nasty diseases including Wikipedia articl on Lyme disease

There are many different varieties of ticks and they can vary in colour from very pale beige-pink to almost black. They can also be very tiny if they are newly hatched, even no larger than a couple of millimeters.

small ticksmall tick

The tiny ticks are a real problem because they are really hard to find and they can be attached for a long time before they are found. The longer a tick is attached the greater the chance of passing on any disease it carries.

This small tick is only about 3mm long. If was blown down from trees when there was a strong wind, and it landed beside me as I sat on the steps outside having my lunch.

The other one, in a 3 inch wide dish, I found just walking around the patio below big trees.

So How Can I Protect My Cat from Ticks (or my Dog for that Matter)

Your cat is not likely to get ticks if it doesn't go outside. He can still catch a tick if you or your dog goes outside and brings them in. Ticks can walk around your clothing or your dog's coat looking for a spot to bite before attaching. Sometimes they fall off.

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)

I live in a quite large lot and keep an area of grass around the house which I mow regularly. This helps provide a buffer between the nearby bush and high grass and the lived-in areas. Because there are lots of animals around such as mice squirrels, deer, and raccoons, there is always a chance that they've dropped a tick so don't assume they are not there just because of short grass.

How do I go about checking my cat for ticks?

No great mystery, you have to look for it everywhere on the cat. Various sites tell you that ticks prefer dark warm spots, and they must know, but all the ticks I've ever found on my cats have been either around the neck and shoulders or around the ears.

Since I brush the cats every day when I sit down in various spots, it's not difficult to integrate tick checking in the routine. The regular brushing and petting gives me a chance to inspect them for fleas and tick.

opossumlarger tick

Finding Ticks is easier on short haired cats of course since a tick will be much more visible, particularly if it's had a chance to feed and has grown larger. This tick was about 1/4 inch wide and firmly attached to Winston. It was just in front of the front leg half way down his body. I just felt an unusual bump and checked. The tick is not particularly engorged so was probably not there very long. There was still a slightly infected wound that took a few days to heal.

Monte has tick on neck

Here is a tick on Monte's neck. He's a short coated cat but after a winter had a very thick coat. Monte was not tame when I took this photo, he was still living outside. (He's the cat that bit me so I had to get Rabies treatment.) I could not handle him to remove the ticks but he let me close enough, with food of course, to put a dose of Bravecta on his neck. You can see the slightly wet area where the drops went on. The ticks were all gone within a couple of days. There were at least 5 that I could see.

I have a metal comb that I use. It's not so fine as a flea comb that is almost impossible to pull through a hairy cat, but the comb is fine enough to snag on bumpy ticks. I gently pull the comb through and if something seems to catch, I look more closely. It would be ideal to use a flea comb but my cats are too furry for this to be useful.

Few cats will allow full body brush but most will let you feel quickly in more private parts such as armpits, around the back legs and near private parts, and particularly in the ears. It's also easier to feel between the toes than to brush there.

Every time you pet your cat it's a simple thing to be on the lookout for any suspicious bump in the fur.

Getting a tick Off your cat, dog, or for that matter yourself

tick tool

Once you've spotted one of the little blighters don't panic. Don't grab it and just pull, don't alarm your cat. Instead get some tweezers or some of those little plastic tick removers and if you have anyone around, it helps to keep the cat amused while you get the job done. This is where a bag of cat treats comes in handy.

You don't want to handle the ticks and don't squeeze it. Don't put anything substance such as alcohol, on it. If you cover it with an unpleasant substance it can regurgitate back into the cat and inject your cat with nasty bacteria. Same problem if you squeeze it.

Instead take your tweezers and grab just the head. It will be nearest to the skin. Pull it gently out. The mouth parts are quite long so take your time and pull everything out slowly. If you've ever had to take one out of yourself you know it doesn't hurt much because the tick injects a numbing substance so you don't feel it attaching and there is no pain as it sucks away your lifeblood.

The little tick removers usually come in a couple of sizes. They have forked ends that are used to scoop up the tick and gently pull it out. I keep mine near the door on the key hooks, otherwise they always get lost. Some instructions are to pull slowly straight out, others suggest a gently twisting motion. Gently is the keyword. If you pull too hard or too fast there is a danger that the mouth pieces will stay embedded and get infected.

tick under microscope

This tiny tick on the end of a bamboo skewer was found in early spring. The enlargement is 20 times I think. You can barely see it. It looks a bit like a tiny spider but has the front legs wider apart and made for grasping and pinching.

The very tiny ticks need tweezers because the plastic removers are too large.

Once you have the tick removed, put it in a bit of alcohol, to kill it. If you want to report it to the health authorities put it in a closed plastic bag and stick it in the fridge until you can drop it off. After being pulled out the ticks are quite capable of walking away, so you have to drop them into something they can't get out of easily. A jar of rubbing alcohol works well, as does bleach, but be careful if you use bleach, it's nasty.

By the way, freezing a tick does not seem to kill it. I've had one survive a week in the freezer.

After the tick is out and properly disposed of, finish checking the cat and put a bit of antiseptic on the spot. The wound is sometimes infected and nasty if the tick has been there for a while, so clean it and put a dab of antibiotic cream. Keep an eye on it for a couple of days.

Sometimes the infestation is just too large and you have to resort to insecticide. Be careful that whatever you use is specifically suggested for Cats. Permethrin is POISONOUS to cats. Many dog sprays are dangerous to cats. On the other hand cat stuff is often safe for dogs, check the label. Cats just can't process poisons very well.

Several Animals eat Ticks and Should be Encouraged.

Many of the foraging animals and birds will eat insects including ticks. Chickens, ducks and guinea fowl patrol farm yards and clean out the ticks quite effectively. Turkeys are happy to catch ticks along with other bugs. I don't know that I would ever suggest keeping guinea fowl though, they are loud! Chickens are a better bet if you are allowed. Any other insect eating bird will peck at ticks if they see them. Robins are not above grabbing a tick or 3.


Opossums have been studied and do eat large number of ticks. If you don't bother them they are mostly harmless and are far less aggressive than they pretend with the hissing and big teeth. Interestingly they are resistant to rabies because their body temperature is quite low and the virus can't live very well in opossums. Other animals that forage around and eat bugs and whatever they can find, such as skunks will also eat ticks.

Here is an article on animals that eat ticks

If your cat is scratching or fussing around a spot have a look in case there is a tick there. It could be fleas too. Here's a link to my page on how to check a cat for fleas. If your cat is rubbing his ears, or scratching at them and you can't see anything even with a flashlight, then get your vet to look. It's possible a small tick has found its way quite deep in the ear canal. It could also be ear mites, they are very small and hard to see. Most of the between-the-shoulder drops keeps ear mites away but you never know.

Never use a DOG product on a cat.

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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.