By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM
Removing ticks is undoubtedly one of the least fun summertime activities we have to look forward to every year. Not only are these blood-suckers nasty to look at, all filled up with your cat’s hard won blood as they are, they are also notoriously difficult to dislodge, making it so you have to get up close and personal to assure success. Because left too long or not removed entirely, these buggers can cause some serious diseases. So, what can you do to keep your cat tick-free this season? Here are a few ideas to consider ...
1. Spot-on Treatments
Using an over the counter spot-on medication that you purchase from your veterinarian, pet store, or online can be a very effective method for controlling both ticks and fleas. These medications are very effective at keeping parasites at bay for up to a month. While these medications are great, you still need to be very careful about which one you use. Make sure you read all labels carefully. If you have any doubts about treating your cat with a spot-on, be sure to get advice from your veterinarian before application.
2. Oral Medications
Once a month pills are not as readily available cats as for dogs, and most tick prevention pills used for cats are actually pills made for small dogs. It appears that a tick pill made specifically for cats is a product that is still in development at the major drug makers. You will need to talk to your veterinarian about whether your cat can safely use a product that is designed for a small dog. One of the benefits of using a once a month pill is that you won’t have to be concerned about small children and coming into contact with the cat immediately after application, or with the cat leaving traces of the pesticide on the furniture, as you might with spot-on treatments.
Bathing your cat with a shampoo that contains medicated ingredients will generally kill ticks on contact. This can be an inexpensive (though labor-intensive) method of protecting your cat during the peak tick season. You will also need to repeat the process more often, about every two weeks, as the effective ingredients won’t last as long as a spot-on or oral medication. Depending on how your cat responds to baths, this may or may not be a practical solution.
4. Tick Dips
A dip is a concentrated chemical that needs to be diluted in water and applied to the animal’s fur with a sponge or poured over the back. You will not rinse the pet after application of a dip product. They can be very strong so labels need to be read carefully before use. You should not use a dip for very young animals (under four months). Ask your veterinarian for advice for treating puppies and kittens.
5. Tick Collars
Collars that repel ticks are an additional preventive you can use, though they are mainly only useful for protecting the neck and head from ticks. The collar needs to make contact with your cat’s skin in order to transfer the chemicals onto the cat’s fur and skin. When putting this type of collar on your cat, you will need to make sure there is just enough room to fit two fingers under the collar when it’s around the cat’s neck. Cut off any excess length of collar to prevent your cat from chewing on it, and watch for signs of discomfort (e.g., excessive scratching) in case an allergic reaction to the collar occurs. Make sure you read the labels carefully when choosing a collar to be sure that it is appropriate for your cat. Collars impregnated with the chemical Amitraz should never be used on cats.
Another method of topical medication, tick powders are an effective method for killing and repelling ticks from your pet. Be sure that the powder you are using is labeled for cats before use. Also, make sure you check the label to make sure that the product is designed to kill ticks as well as fleas. This very fine powder can be an irritant to the mouth or lungs if inhaled, so use small amounts and slowly rub it into the skin. Keep powders away from the face and eyes when applying. You will need to reapply the product more often, about once a week during peak season. Some powders can also be used in areas where your cat sleeps, and in other parts of the household your cat frequents.
7. Tick Sprays
Another medicated topical application, tick spray kills ticks quickly and provides residual protection. Sprays can be used in between shampoos and dips, and they can be useful if your cat spends significant time in wooded areas. Be very careful when using this product around your cat’s face. Read labels carefully to be sure the spray is made for use on cats before applying, and do not use it on or around any other animals in the home.
8. Treat the House and Lawn
Keeping your lawn, bushes, and trees trimmed back will help reduce the population of fleas and ticks in your backyard. If there are fewer areas for these parasites to live and breed, there will be fewer of them to be concerned with. If you still have a problem, consider using one of the various household and yard sprays or granular treatments that are available from your veterinarian, pet store, or local garden center. Just be careful when using these products, as they can be harmful to animals, fish, and humans. If you have a severe problem or you are concerned about the proper handling of these chemicals, you might want to consider hiring an exterminator to apply yard and area sprays to control the ticks and fleas.
9. Check your Cat(s)
After a romp outside in areas where ticks may be lurking, be sure to carefully check your cat for ticks. Look between the toes, inside the ears, between the legs, and around the neck. If you find the ticks before they have a chance to attach and become engorged, you may prevent some serious diseases for your pet. Removal should be done immediately and carefully when ticks are found.
10. Keep your Cat(s) Indoors
If you have never let your cat outside, there is no reason to start. On the other hand, we know it can be very difficult to start forcing a cat to stay inside once it has had a life of outdoor roaming. If you can at least limit your cat’s outdoor time during the tick season, checking him every time he comes back inside, you may be able to decrease the chances of him becoming ill from a tick bite, since the longer the tick remains on the body, the greater the chance it has of transmitting a disease like cytauxzoonosis, or lyme disease.
Preventing your cat from roaming through wooded areas where ticks are likely to be lying in wait is the most effective way of keeping your cat safe from exposure. You may still have a few ticks wandering your yard, but if you keep things tidy and use preventive medications, your cat should have minimal risk of becoming a meal for ticks this summer.