The dangers of grass: ticks
They are insidious enemies for outdoor cats: ticks wait patiently in trees and in taller vegetation to jump on any suitable host animal that comes their way. Because the tick bite itself is usually not noticed, the blood sucking arachnids feast on the cat until it is plump and full and falls off on its own. Doesn’t sound that bad? Not at all: ticks transmit dangerous illnesses and are active here from February until late autumn. In winter there is less risk to outdoor cats for getting ticks in the fur, but in the mild winters some ticks are still active at this time of year.
What exactly is a tick and why are they dangerous?
Ticks are among the largest mites and are therefore arachnids. Two tick species are native to our latitudes: the common wood tick and the variegated tick which mostly attack animals. Around the world there are more than 900 known species of ticks. The characteristic mouth parts of the tick are clever sawing and sucking organs. The correct term would therefore be tick bites. With their saliva, the tick secretes proteins into the wound made with the mouth parts which prevent blood clotting and work like a local numbing agent. The bitten host doesn’t notice the tick right away and therefore doesn’t fight it off. However, infectious pathogens can be spread in the saliva that enters the bloodstream through the wound. If a tick is not killed, females are able to suck for weeks undiscovered and absorb an enormous amount of blood into their body. Ticks can locate their hosts chemically, usually by lying in wait or, in the case of some tick species, by active movement.
What helps protect cats against ticks?
Ticks are not only unpleasant for the cat, but they are also carriers of diseases. Infections and allergies can be triggered as a direct result of a tick infestation, and dangerous diseases like Lyme disease and anaplasmosis (an infection of the blood cells) can be transmitted.
How to prevent a tick infestation:
- Outdoor cats should be given a preventive treatment with a spot-on product to protect against ticks. These products are applied between the shoulder blades or on the nape of the neck, so in places where it cannot be licked off. Such a treatment lasts about a month.
- Alternatively, there are chips for the cat’s collar that stay effective for many months. The disadvantage here is that outdoor cats should wear self-releasing collars only in emergencies, for their own safety, and the chip can easily get lost.
- Sprays with essential oils are chemical-free and confuse the parasite’s sense of smell, but have only limited use with cats.
Please note: only use products suitable for cats! Anti-tick repellents for dogs have a different composition that can be highly dangerous to cats!
How can I remove ticks from cats?
First the good news: in general, cats that are constantly grooming are less frequently infested with ticks than dogs, so the cat’s fur is usually too restless for ticks. Nevertheless, a tick can successfully attach itself. If a tick is discovered during a fur check after it has been outside, proceed cautiously.
Never use a finger or fingernail to grab the tick. In so doing, you could accidentally squash the tick and push bacteria into the cat’s body. Only use tweezers, or even better, tick tweezers or a tick hook. You can find these tools at a pet shop or pharmacy.
How it’s done: proper tick removal
- Absolutely avoid “household products” like oil or nail polish to pre-treat the tick. If the parasite senses suffocation it “vomits” saliva or the contents of its stomach into the wound and thus the body of the cat.
- Spread out the skin around the tick with your fingers.
- Place the tweezers or hook as closely to the body of the cat as possible.
- Pull the tick with a straight or slightly rotating movement perpendicular to the cat’s body.
- Pay absolute attention that all parts of the tick are removed – the head must not remain behind in the wound.
- If the tick head still tears off and stuck, use a bank card or similar item and move the edge against the tick head and push the foreign body out of the skin. If this is not successful, carefully disinfect the spot on the skin with the tick head and closely observe the further progress: in a normal case, the head should fall out by itself after a while. If an infection occurs, the cat should be brought to the vet.
Even if you are not sure how to handle mechanical tools, the vet can help. The online vets from Dr. Maxi Zoo are happy to help you via video chat. With expert instructions you have more certainty, and are maybe even able to successfully remove the tick without any help the next time.
Are ticks dangerous to humans?
A tick bite should not be taken lightly: infected bites can transfer diseases like Lyme disease, an infectious illness that starts with a warning reddening of the skin and can expand to include heart damage and neural defects. Meningoecephalitis, which can attack the brain, is also a feared outcome This dangerous part of this disease is that the initial flu-like symptoms often occur months after the possibly still unnoticed tick bite, and the connection is not recognised.
Small tick customers
There are different types of ticks, such as the common wood tick, ornate cow tick, ornate sheep tick, hedgehog tick, or brown dog tick. Here you can find out more about these types of ticks.
Video: “Tick protection for cats”
Ticks are primarily a problem for outdoor cats. You should check your outdoor cats for ticks after every return home, and remove them with special tick tweezers. Even better prevention.