How to spot the signs of ticks on cats

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Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that like to feed on your cat, and once they’ve latched on they’re not keen to let go. They will only drop off once they’ve finished feeding, which can take days and in that time they may have passed on a nasty infection. Ticks are good at hiding on cats by burying into their fur, so read on to find out what you’re looking out for so you can seek them out.

pet owner stroking cat

What does a tick look like on a cat?

With their eight legs, adult ticks belong to the arachnid family, so they can look a little like spiders.

Ticks bite animals and feed on their blood. They’re usually tiny when unfed – some are no bigger than the size of a pinhead. A tick’s size will vary as it fills with blood, growing to around a centimetre after latching onto an animal (known as their host).

Their colour changes too, which can make them more difficult to identify. Unfed ticks are brown with a darker brown area around the mouthparts, and engorged ticks are more circular in shape and grey-coloured.

How can my cat pick up a tick?

Ticks lie and wait in long grass and vegetation to latch onto animal fur or to humans – as they brush by. Once they’ve hitched a ride, it’s feeding time. The tick sinks its strong mouthparts into its victim’s flesh and begins feeding on their blood. It will stay attached, growing increasingly bigger, until it’s finished feeding after a few days.

Why are ticks dangerous for cats?

Ticks are unpleasant parasites that may affect your cat ­–and if your cat is bitten, the tick may even pose a risk to people in your household. Blood lost in a single tick bite isn’t usually enough to trouble a cat but in kittens, elderly cats and cats with a lot of ticks, blood loss can be more significant and can lead to anaemia. Ticks can also carry diseases. The bacterial infections including Lyme disease can be carried by ticks and passed to cats and even people, if they get a chance to bite.

Using a tick preventative on your cat and regularly checking for any ticks buried in their fur, particularly if they wander in high grass and wooded areas, will help to keep your beloved pet and your household healthy.

How do I spot ticks on my cat?

Although tick bites can be uncomfortable, your cat may not show any obvious changes in behaviour. Even when a cat contracts a disease from an infected tick, there may not initially be any visible symptoms of tick-borne diseases. That’s why it’s important to check your cat for ticks regularly, so you can catch it before it turns into anything more serious.

Run your fingers through your cat’s fur

Ticks, particularly well-fed ones, feel like small round bumps on the surface of the skin.

Stroke your cat gently, feeling for these bumps. In longhaired cats, you may need to delve into the layers of fur, using your fingers like the teeth of a comb for a thorough check.

They’re not quite as hard to spot as fleas because usually by the time you spot a tick, it’s already latched on and feeding, growing bigger each day. Although sometimes you’ll find an unfed tick wandering across the surface of your pet’s fur, looking for a place to latch on.

Pay particular attention to dark, hidden areas

Ticks may often be hidden in long coats, but they prefer to feed on areas where it’s easier to get close to the skin, such as the neck, head, ears and feet. They also enjoy feeding in hidden, warm and dark areas of a cat’s body, so you will need to pay particular attention to the groin, armpits, between the toes and inside the ears.

Know how to tell ticks apart from skin lumps

Occasionally, owners mistake a small skin lump on their pet for a tick. A good tip is to look closely – you can identify an adult tick by their eight legs.

Take some extra time for longer hair coats

If you own a longhaired feline, you’ll need to set aside some extra time to check through their coat properly. The small bumps that may indicate a feeding tick can be more difficult to feel through the layers of a thick coat, so ensure you delve deeper, getting right to the skin.

owner checking cats fur for ticks

What should I do if I find a tick on my cat?

If you find a tick on your cat’s skin, don't panic, and don't pull it. There’s no need to stress your pet out, and the last thing you want to do is squeeze the tick or break it off whilst it’s feeding, as this can increase the risk of infection.

One of the most effective ways to remove a tick is using a tick removal tool, which is sometimes called a tick hook. These devices are designed to grip the tick at the affected area and remove the tick whole, so there are no parts left in your cat. Ensure you read the instructions on the packaging before starting or speak to your vet.

Always wear gloves when removing a tick and have a paper towel handy for the removed tick.

Read our step-by-step guide to removing ticks from cats and find out how to dispose of the tick properly.

How do I prevent ticks on my cat?

Regularly using an effective tick prevention product on your cat can keep tick bites at bay, giving you peace of mind that your cat is healthy, reducing the risk of ticks entering the household.  Although you may want to continue to carry out regular tick checks during summer months when ticks are more prevalent.

Tick treatments for cats are available as tablets, spot-ons or collars.

Seresto Flea and Tick Control collar for cats kills fleas, and kills and repels ticks, for up to eight months. Simply place the collar on your pet for the longest-lasting flea and tick protection available in a single application – and without the need for a prescription. It helps protect cats and kittens over the age of ten weeks.

Did you know…?

The most common tick species in the UK is the Ixodes ricinus, otherwise known as the sheep tick, although it bites dogs, cats and humans too!

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Date of review February 2022

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