Dear Christopher Cat: Occasionally I find ticks on my indoor-outdoor cats’ faces but not elsewhere on their bodies, so I assume cats remove most of their own ticks. Does this mean I don’t have to apply a tick preventive?
Christopher Responds: Cats are more resistant than dogs to the bacteria carried by ticks – just one more way we cats are superior to dogs. Nevertheless, we can get sick from tick bites, so you should apply tick protection to your cats regularly.
The most serious disease that ticks transmit to us cats is cytauxzoonosis. Despite the name, cytauxzoonosis is not zoonotic, that is, it does not spread to humans.
The disease is caused by a one-celled protozoal parasite called Cytauxzoon felis that lives in infected bobcats without causing them much difficulty. When a lone star tick or an American dog tick bites the infected bobcat, it ingests the parasite.
Lone star ticks frequent woods from Texas to the Atlantic coast, ranging from New York to Florida. American dog ticks live in forests and meadows throughout the U.S.
Soon after an infected tick bites a cat, clinical signs of cytauxzoonosis appear. Within a week, the disease progresses from fever, loss of appetite, breathing problems, jaundice, and enlarged liver and spleen to death. Treatment is expensive and often unsuccessful, so prevention is crucial.
Ticks also transmit Anaplasma, Ehrlichia and tularemia bacteria, which can cause fever, loss of appetite, lethargy and other problems in us cats. These bacteria also cause disease in dogs and humans.
Ask your veterinarian to recommend a tick and flea preventive for your cats, and use it throughout the year.