Cornell Feline Health Center

Supporting Cat Health with Information and Health Studies.

Ticks and Your Cat – FAQs

Spring is the time of year that many of us begin to think about ticks, the parasitic relatives of spiders that can carry diseases that affect various animal species as well as people. There are over 800 species of ticks worldwide, and all survive by ingesting the blood of their hosts, but only a dozen or so carry diseases that can affect cats. See below for answers to some common questions about these ancient arthropod parasites.  

Where are ticks found?

Ticks species are found throughout the world, but tend to live in places that are warmer and more humid. They require a certain degree of moisture to undergo important parts of their life cycle, and cold temperatures inhibit their development from eggs to larvae.

Generally speaking, ticks prefer to inhabit transition zones between lawns/open fields and woodlands. They like shady, moist leaf litter surrounded by taller trees and shrubs, where they can lay their eggs in the spring. One study showed that 82% of the tick nymphs (the life stage that feeds on larger host like cats and people) found on lawns were located within 3 meters of the edge of the lawns studied.

How do ticks identify and attach to their hosts?

Most species wait on vegetation for an appropriate host and climb onto the host as it passes by and brushes the vegetation that the tick is waiting on. Hosts are detected by either their carbon dioxide emission (produced during respiration), their body heat, or the vibrations produced by their movement. Ticks cannot fly or jump, but rather crawl onto their hosts.

How long does it take for a tick to attach to a host?

This varies by species, with some types of ticks attaching within 10 minutes of climbing onto their host, and others taking up to two hours before they attach in preparation for a blood meal.

How long does a tick stay attached to a host after it has begun feeding?

This depends upon the species, but some types of ticks can stay attached for days to weeks.

Do cats get Lyme disease?

While cats can certainly be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative bacteria of Lyme disease, they appear to be very resistant to the development of Lyme disease. In fact, there is no well documented case of a cat developing signs of Lyme disease even when they have been shown to be infected by B. burgdorferi and have produced antibodies to this organism. The reasons for this feline resistance to Lyme disease are currently unknown.

What diseases can cats get from tick bites?

The following is a list of the more common diseases that can be transmitted to cats by ticks, with the primary signs/negative effects on feline health provided in parentheses:  

Hemobartonellosis (AKA feline infectious anemia) (anemia, fever, jaundice)

Cytauxzoonosis (AKA bobcat fever) (anemia, fever, jaundice)

Babesiosis (anemia, respiratory distress, neurologic signs)

Tularemia (AKA rabbit fever) (fever, lymph node enlargement, tender abdomen, abscess formation, jaundice) *

Ehrlichiosis (ocular discharge, respiratory distress, swollen joints, enlarged lymph nodes, fever, anemia)*

*: less commonly diagnosed

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

If it is not embedded, you can remove the tick using a flea comb or other similar tool after putting on protective gloves. Careful examination of your cat for (and removal of) other ticks is important if a tick is found on your cat, as is a quick search of their bedding/places they have recently been sitting/lying. Any ticks found should be placed into a container of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to kill them, and hands should be washed after removal.

If a tick is embedded, put on protective gloves and remove it by grasping it with tweezers or other device designed for tick removal right at the site of attachment (i.e. where it meets the skin) and pulling directly outward from the skin in a single motion to remove both the embedded head and the rest of the body. Place the tick in a container of isopropyl alcohol, and remove and dispose of gloves, followed by a thorough hand washing. Monitor the site of tick removal for signs of swelling, redness, or discharge, and contact your veterinarian if you notice your cat showing any signs of weakness, lethargy, or decreased appetite in the days/weeks following tick removal.

What’s the best way to protect my cat from tick-borne diseases?

Preventing tick bites is the best way to avoid these diseases, and this prevention can be achieved by (1) keeping cats indoors and (2) by using only feline-approved products for tick prevention. These come in many forms, (spot-on, oral, collars, sprays, shampoos), and a discussion with your veterinarian is the best way to decide upon the best product for your situation.

Last updated 2021