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What to do when you find ticks on your cat, and how to prevent them

Ticks are prevalent across most of the U.S. in warm weather. Some of them, like these ticks, carry diseases.
Ticks are prevalent across most of the U.S. in warm weather. Some of them, like these ticks, carry diseases.
Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

Warm weather inevitably means fleas and ticks for pets that go outdoors. Catster reports that ticks are out of control in New England this year, and cats and dogs are especially tasty hosts for ticks. Even if your cat is an indoor-only cat, she's susceptible to ticks because they can travel inside on your clothes, or otherwise hitch a ride on you. How do you deal with ticks on your cat, once you've found them?

First off, getting rid of ticks on your cat isn't quite the same as getting rid of fleas, because the ticks bury themselves in the skin. So you can't just brush them off, or soak them off, like you can with fleas. In fact, they can breathe underwater for a while. To remove them, Animal Planet recommends using fine-tipped tweezers and grasping the tick by its head if possible, or close to its head as possible, and then pulling straight out. Avoid twisting it or squishing it, as that could send even more harmful bacteria into your cat's bloodstream. Drop the tick into a jar of rubbing alcohol or insecticide. Do this for every tick you find, and clean each bite with alcohol or another good antiseptic.

Afterward, keep an eye on your cat, because the bites will itch, and she may scratch or bite at them, which could make them worse. Also, she might have contracted a tick-borne illness, such as Lyme disease or bobcat fever. Bobcat fever is particularly dangerous, and while it's dormant in bobcats, it's frequently fatal in domestic cats.

If you find ticks on your cat, call your vet. Some illnesses, like bobcat fever, come on very suddenly. You should be alert for lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever, which are common symptoms of many tick-borne illnesses. Make sure your vet knows your cat was exposed to ticks, so he knows what to look for.

As with any parasite, prevention is the best way of preventing tick-borne illnesses in your cat. Monthly doses of Revolution can kill not just ticks, but fleas, ear mites, and hookworms and roundworms. You can also use flea and tick shampoos, because these shampoos often kill ticks on contact. However, you might need to bathe your cat every two weeks, which can dry out her skin and fur.

You may also want to treat your house and lawn, so that there's less of a risk of your cat picking up ticks when she's out in the yard. Keeping your grass short and your shrubs pruned will help, because ticks tend to like longer, heavier and denser vegetation. There are chemicals you can get to kill possible ticks, but they can be dangerous for you and your cat, so you might want to call an exterminator if you're not sure what to do. In most cases, though, chemical treatment probably isn't necessary. And vacuum your house frequently, several times a week, until you're sure the ticks are gone. Wash your bedding and your clothing also.

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