The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care: TICKS and LICE
Ticks are not commonly found on cats, probably because cats habitually groom themselves thoroughly. If you live in a woodsy or rural area and your cat goes outside, you may occasionally find a tick. Adult female ticks look different before and after they have taken a blood meal (see illustration); male ticks don’t swell with feeding. The most serious damage ticks usually do is cause an area of skin inflammation at the site of attachment, but their presence should never be ignored. Heavy tick infestation can cause anemia in kittens or weakened adult cats; ticks can transmit diseases and can sometimes cause paralysis by releasing substances toxic to nerves while feeding. Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease* can be transmitted by ticks to humans, cats, and dogs.
HOW TO REMOVE TICKS
Since cats rarely have more than one or two ticks on their bodies, the easiest way to remove them is by hand. Using forceps, tweezers, or your thumb and index finger protected by tissue or disposable gloves, grasp the tick as close as possible to where its mouthparts insert into the cat’s skin.
Then exert a firm but gentle, constant pull. (There’s no need to twist.) If you’ve pulled just right and gotten the tick at the optimum time after attachment, the entire tick will detach. If the mouthparts are left embedded, don’t worry. The tick never grows back, the mouthparts fall out naturally, and only rarely does a tick bite become infected. The site of the tick bite usually becomes red and thickened in reaction to a substance secreted in the tick’s saliva, but it usually heals in about two weeks. Do not try to burn off ticks with a match, or apply kerosene, gasoline, or other similar petroleum products. If you feel you must apply something to the tick, use a drop of concentrated flea or tick dip or alcohol, apply it only to the tick, not to the surrounding skin or hair. Wait for a few minutes, then pull the tick out.
Always avoid contact with the body fluids of ticks to avoid infection of yourself by disease-causing organisms (the Lyme disease spirochete bacterium can penetrate the skin directly), and always wash your hands with soap and water after removing a tick.
Lice are much less commonly seen than fleas or ticks on wellcared-for cats. Adult lice are pale colored and about one tenth inch (2.5 mm) or less in length. They spend their entire life on one host and attach their tiny white eggs to the hair. Cat lice (Felicola subrostratus) eat skin scales and hair.
They can cause signs of itching, dandruff, and a rough hair coat. Some cats develop tiny scabs all over their skin. Lice can also carry certain tapeworm larvae. Kill lice with a thorough bath followed by a spray or dip for cats effective against ticks and fleas. Repeat the treatment weekly for three to four weeks and include all cats living with or exposed to the infested cat.