Despite popular belief, cats can encounter ticks outdoors and contract tick-transmitted diseases. Even indoor cats can come in contact with ticks brought in by people or other pets.
Once a tick manages to pierce your cat’s skin and attach, it can feed on their blood for several days, potentially transmitting diseases in the process. While cats are known for their cleanliness, even a serious grooming session probably won’t dislodge an attached tick.
What’s more, ticks are on the move, expanding their reach into more areas of the country. For example, the lone star tick, one of the most common transmitter of tick diseases in cats, was once thought to live only in the South. However, this tick species is increasingly found in the Midwestern and Eastern sections of the United States. Ticks’ growing prevalence throughout the country makes it increasingly important to learn how to help prevent ticks on cats.
Tick-Transmitted Diseases in Cats
Cytauxzoonosis in Cats
Because tick bites do not usually hurt, your cat may not show any obvious signs of ticks. But just one bite from the wrong tick could infect your cat with a fatal disease called cytauxzoonosis. Transmitted by the lone star tick, cytauxzoonosis is a cat-specific infection that affects the cat’s blood cells and circulatory system. It is considered the most serious tick disease for cats by far.
Symptoms of cytauxzoonosis include:
- Severe fever
- Loss of appetite or anorexia
- Difficulty breathing
Severe illness involving multiple organ systems can progress into coma and/or death. Cats can survive with treatment, but even with aggressive medical care, cytauxzoonosis is usually fatal and can kill cats within one week of the first symptoms.1
Ehrlichiosis in Cats
Cats also are at risk from other tick-related issues, such as ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. Ehrlichiosis is a tick-transmitted bacterial disease that’s more common in dogs than cats, though cats are not immune to it. In cats, ehrlichiosis can cause symptoms including:
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
Anaplasmosis in Cats
Like ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis is another bacterial infection ticks can transmit to cats. Anaplasmosis is mainly found in the Northeast, and infections are most common during May, June and October. It typically takes up to 24 to 48 hours of attachment for the tick to transmit anaplasmosis to the cat.2
Symptoms of anaplasmosis in cats include:
- Loss of appetite or anorexia
If your cat experiences a large tick infestation, they could develop anemia (too few red blood cells) as well.
How to Prevent Ticks on Cats
Ticks can transmit many dangerous diseases to cats. Luckily, using long-lasting, easy-to-apply preventive products can help protect your cat from ticks. Look for one that kills and repels ticks through contact. If a tick is repelled, it cannot bite and transmit diseases.
1. Bondy PJ, Cohn LA, Kerl ME. (2005). Feline Cytauxzoonosis. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet. 27(1):69-75.
2. Ewing, Patty J. “Feline Anaplasmosis • MSPCA-Angell.” MSPCA, www.mspca.org/angell_services/feline-anaplasmosis/.