How to Find Ticks on Cats

Janice Thomas, DVM
By Janice Thomas, DVM on Jul. 28, 2022

Every US region has at least one prevalent tick species capable of transmitting disease. Ticks are parasites that can attach to people, pets, wildlife, and even tree branches, waiting for their next host. By locating, identifying, and removing ticks, you decrease the chance of cats contracting tick-borne diseases. Combine that with tick prevention, and your pet can have the best protection possible.

What Are Ticks on Cats?

Ticks are small biting parasites. They have strong mouth parts for biting and burrowing their head in the skin of their host to feed on the blood of their host. Ticks will attach to pets, people, and wildlife. These parasites have two special abilities: hiding and remaining attached.

Ticks produce a substance that numbs their area of attachment. As a result, the animal or person the tick attaches to does not feel the tick, so the tick is protected from scratching or rubbing from the host. Additionally, some species of ticks produce a substance that helps them remain attached to the host, at the head only. While attached, ticks will consume blood meals for days.

The life of a tick is divided into four stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. At every stage of life, a tick must consume a blood meal. A tick’s entire life cycle, depending on the species, can last between two to three years.

Ticks can be very dangerous to cats. Since they feed on the blood of their host, it is easy for them to transmit diseases that cats cannot catch directly from an infected cat or from eating the tick. Cytauxzoon felis, a protozoan blood parasite, and Anaplasma phagocytophilum, a rickettsial organism, are two of the most concerning.

What Do Ticks Look Like on Cats?

Ticks can only crawl; they cannot fly or jump, so they lie on plants, branches, and grasses waiting to latch onto a host as they pass. The most common areas for ticks are those with tall foliage, deer, sheep, hedgehogs, or rabbits. Cats get ticks most frequently if they are outdoor cats or live in homes with other pets that go outdoors.

All adult ticks have eight legs. They have no antennae and can be black, brown, red, or tan. When they attach, they are generally small, with some the size of a poppy seed. They grow rapidly after consuming a blood meal. Their color may change as well after a feeding, from brown to a pearly grey.

How to Find Ticks on Cats

Finding ticks on your cat is a simple process.

  • Start by running your fingers through your cat’s coat, feeling for any small bumps

  • What you feel may easily be mistaken for a little skin swelling or mass, but if the bump is a tick, you will see small legs, four on each side, at the level of the skin

  • Most often, ticks love to attach around the head, neck, ears, and feet

After every trip outdoors, your cat should be checked for ticks. If a tick is found in your home or on another pet, person, or clothing, indoor cats should be checked as well.

How to Safely Remove Ticks on Cats

When you locate a tick, do not attempt to pull or brush it off. Follow the appropriate steps to ensure that you safely remove and dispose of a tick properly.  

Tick Prevention for Cats

When venturing outdoors, cats interact with other animals, either directly or by passing through areas where other animals have been. To decrease the amount of wildlife near your home, consider decreasing food left outside your house. When returning from an area with tall foliage or with wildlife, check all pets and clothing for ticks.

Tick prevention is easily available for cats. However, tick prevention labeled for dogs is not safe for cats and should never be used on cats. Options for cats include collars, topical spot-on treatments, and tablets given by mouth.

With routine prevention, regular exams at home, and quick tick removal, cats can enjoy the outdoors with a decreased risk for tick-borne diseases. Even cats that spend most of their lives indoors can benefit from tick prevention, because ticks can be carried into your home on other pets or people—even you!

Featured Image: Angeli


Janice Thomas, DVM


Janice Thomas, DVM


Dr. Janice Thomas left Cleveland, Ohio, and headed south for warmer weather and less snow. She completed her medical studies at Tuskegee...

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