Can You Prevent Ticks on Cats?

We often see warnings about the risks ticks pose to dogs, but these unwanted pests don’t limit their interest to just our canine travel companions. If you have an adventure cat in your household, this topic should also be at the top of your list this time of year!

There are a few differences to consider when discussing how to prevent ticks on cats. Most importantly, cat parents must understand which products are safe for cats to use and which are dangerously toxic.

In this post, we will dig into the important details regarding ticks and your cat.

Learn why you should take ticks seriously, the common symptoms of a tick bite, how to remove a tick from a cat, and steps you can take to prevent tick bites from happening.

Let’s get started!

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Why Are Ticks a Risk to My Cat?

If this is your first time seeing or hearing about ticks, you may have Googled them only to find yourself needing clarification on the many warnings. After all, they are just a small insect, right?

Ticks belong to the arachnid family, along with mites and spiders.

These small parasites climb onto pets like dogs and cats, latching on and feeding on the blood of their host. When the female tick has fully eaten, they fall off the host and lay 3000 to 6000 eggs before passing.

Unlike many annoying pests we encounter when adventuring outdoors (like mosquitoes), ticks don’t fly.

Instead, they wait on the shrubs or grasses until a host comes close enough, brushing against the low-lying vegetation so that they can climb on.  This makes smaller animals, like cats, close to the ground a prime target.

Due to their meticulous grooming habits, cats are at a lower risk of suffering from tick-related health complications and tickborne diseases.

Additionally, cats are highly resistant to the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, the most discussed tickborne illness. But Lyme disease isn’t the only tick-transmitted illness we need to be aware of as outdoor travellers.

Tickborne diseases that may be transmitted to cats include:

  • Cytauxzoonosis
  • Granulocytic Anaplasmosis
  • Tularemia
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Haemobartonellosis
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Babesiosis
  • Tick Paralysis

Severe tick infections can lead to the development of life-threatening anemia. However, this is rare in well-cared-for cats.

How to Prevent Ticks on Cats

As responsible pet owners, the best thing we can do is to prevent ticks before they become a problem.

There is a lot of debate in the pet community about whether natural tick prevention is effective or even safe for your cat.

We prefer combining a reliable tick prevention medication with natural solutions for added protection for our pets. More specifically, we use Revolution Plus topical treatment from our veterinarian and recently purchased Tickless ultrasonic devices for hiking with our cats.

Tick Prevention Medications

The most effective way to prevent ticks on cats is with veterinarian-backed flea and tick medications.

Some of these medications can be purchased at your local pet store or through online vendors like Amazon. Others are only available to buy at your vet’s office.

  • Spot-on Treatments: Also known as topicals, these medications can be purchased from your vet or over the counter. They are applied as liquids and absorb into your cat’s skin, where they work by killing any ticks (and fleas). Some spot-on treatments also work as a repellent.
  • Shampoos: Flea & tick shampoos are used to kill off the pests already present in your cat’s coat and on their skin and repel ticks in the immediate future.
  • Tick Dips: Like shampoo, flea & tick dips address a tick infestation by killing off ticks present.
  • Tick Collars: Flea & tick collars work much in the same way as a topical treatment. While the topical is applied and enters a cat’s skin as one full dose, the collar releases the active ingredients slowly, a little at a time.

The most important thing to remember when selecting any medication to prevent ticks on cats is that you must be sure that the product is made for cats.

There are many tick preventatives for dogs that are dangerously toxic if your cat encounters them. In many cases, contact can quickly turn into a life-threatening situation.

Natural Tick Preventatives

There has been a growing interest in natural and holistic alternatives to chemical treatments. Natural options come in many different varieties.

Extracted from plants, essential oils can be used to address many different ailments and situations. This includes using these products to repel pets like fleas, ticks, and biting insects. 

Some essential oils credited with repelling ticks include:

  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Cedar
  • Eucalyptus

But be warned, many essential oils are toxic to pets, especially in larger doses. We recommend contacting a holistic veterinarian to discuss your options.

Another natural option that we already mentioned is the Tickless Ultrasonic Tick and Flea Repellent.

These devices use ultrasonic pulses that are too high to be heard by humans, animals, or wildlife. But they do irritate these small pests, keeping them at bay.

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Environmental Tick Prevention

Another way to keep your cat safe from tickborne diseases is by addressing the environment. This includes your yard as well as being smart about where you take your cat camping or hiking.

You can keep ticks out of your yard and, by extension, away from your house by taking these precautions:

  • Mow your lawn keeping the grass short
  • Remove any tall grasses, leaf litter, stacked wood, downed brush, or trash around your property
  • Stack firewood neatly and cover it to keep it dry
  • Build a fence to keep tick-carrying wildlife out of the yard
  • If your property borders a wooded area, create a barrier of wood chips or gravel approximately 3 feet wide to limit tick migration into your yard

When choosing a trail or campsite, pay attention to high-risk areas. For those of us adventuring in Ontario, you can consult the Ontario Lyme Disease Map from Public Health Ontario.  

Stick to the trail when hiking. Going off trail means walking through tall grasses and other vegetation where ticks may be waiting.

On your camping trips, set up your tent and seating area close to the center of the cleared campsite area, avoiding the overgrown areas around it.

If you use a tie-out, keep it short enough to keep your cat on the campsite.  

Conduct Regular Tick Checks

Even with taking every precaution, your adventure cat will likely still pick up a tick at some point.

Unfortunately, we can’t always count on noticing tick bite symptoms in cats. These signs often don’t appear until after a disease or infection has been passed and started to rear its ugly head.

The best thing you can do for your cat’s safety is to conduct regular tick checks before, after, and throughout your longer outdoor adventures.

Ticks often look (and feel) like small bumps on your cat’s skin.

They can be found anywhere on the body but are most commonly seen in the following areas:

  • At the base of the tail
  • Along the back legs
  • Between the toes
  • In the groin area
  • Under the front legs/in the “armpits”
  • Around the neck, under the collar
  • On the face around the eyes, nose, or even gums
  • Around or inside the ears

We do a thorough check after a camping or hiking trip with the cats. Also, we check every night before bed on multi-day trips.

What Should I Do if I Find a Tick on My Cat?

If you find a tick on your cat, you will want to safely remove and dispose of it (or submit it to be tested). How to do this will depend on the age of the tick and whether it has latched on.

A tick that is walking on your pet’s fur and hasn’t latched on can be removed by picking it up with gloves or a paper towel.

Place it in a sealed container like a plastic baggie or pill bottle if you are planning on having the tick tested through an organization like TickCheck or your public health unit.

Otherwise, you can dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet or killing it before placing it in your household garbage. Ticks cannot be squished like most bugs. You must drown it in rubbing alcohol or freeze it for several days before throwing it out.  

If the tick has latched on and started to feed, you will want to remove it immediately.

Tickborne diseases take 24 to 48 hours to be passed to your cat. But removing it incorrectly can increase the risk of transmission.

Follow these step-by-step instructions to remove an engorged tick on a cat carefully and safely:

How to Remove a Tick Safely

There are many home remedies for removing a tick, like exposing it to a flame or smothering it with Vaseline. These “hacks” are false and can cause more harm than good.

To remove a tick safely, you will need a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool.

Tick Remover Tool: Line the tool up with the side of the tick’s body and slide it along your cat’s skin. Follow the directions for the specific device you are using. Some will automatically remove the tick if you continue to slide the tool forward, while others require you to twist or lift it.

Tweezers: Carefully grasp the tick with the tweezers as close to the skin as possible. Pull it upward with even, steady pressure avoiding any sideways or twisting movements.  

After removing the tick, store it for testing or dispose of it as outlined above. Disinfect the area where the tick was found using an alcohol wipe.

What steps do you take to prevent ticks on cats during your adventures? We’d love to hear your tips, tricks, and favourite products!

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