Where and how do cats get ticks – and what to do if you spot one

As pet parents, of course we want to keep our cats protected from ticks and
the diseases they can cause. By knowing how our cats can pick up these
parasites, we can better understand how to help them – and what to look out
for. Let’s see what we need to do keep our cats feeling the way we want them
to feel: tickety-boo.

How do ticks end up on our cats?

Unlike fleas, ticks don’t jump onto cats. Instead, ticks perch on the tips of grasses and plants waving their forelimbs in the air waiting for their next host (the name given to an animal or person that a tick feeds on). This waving behaviour is known as ‘questing’.

When a cat (or us, or another animal) brushes past, ticks grab hold, climb on and clamber to a better position before attaching themselves by biting through the skin. Under the elbows and on their heads are prime locations to find ticks on cats, so those places are worth checking over.

Fluffy cat prowling across the top of a fence in a sunny garden
Fluffy cat prowling across the top of a fence in a sunny garden

Where can cats get ticks?

Our cats can get ticks when they’re walking or hunting in vegetated areas. This could be a field, meadow, wood, heath, park or even just a garden. So pretty much anywhere with greenery!

Weather conditions are most favourable for ticks from spring until the end of autumn, but cats can come across ticks at any time of the year.

How do I know if my cat has a tick?

Body Copy

Ticks can cause irritation and discomfort that makes our cats groom or scratch at the area where the tick is attached. However, we don’t always see signs like this, so it’s best to check them regularly.

We can make tick checking feel like we’re grooming our cats, so it seems more like a lovely bonding session that we both can enjoy.

To check for ticks, carefully comb through their fur with your fingers, feeling for any bumps on their skin. Remember to check your cat’s ears, face, elbows and between their toes – these are some of the favourite spots where ticks like to hide. If you feel anything, part their fur to take a closer look.

You might not spot all of the ticks on your cat as they can be very small, so it’s best to regularly use a tick treatment such as FRONTLINE PLUS® in addition to checking for ticks.

Tick on the tip of a blade of grass Tick on the tip of a blade of grass

What types of ticks can cats pick up?

The most common UK tick is Ixodes ricinus (sometimes called the sheep tick). This tick is a potential carrier of Lyme disease, which is thankfully rare in cats but unfortunately can still affect them.

Dermacentor reticulatus is relatively new to the UK and these ticks have made their home here in Essex, Wales, the South East and South West. It’s believed they’ll spread to other areas of the UK.

What does a tick look like?

Ticks are egg-shaped arachnids, so they have eight legs. The key thing to know is that ticks look very different before and after feeding. When they first climb onto a cat, they’re only about the size of a sesame seed. But once a tick starts feeding and swelling with the blood they’re eating, it can grow up to 200 times, reaching the size of a coffee bean. 

Left untreated, ticks will typically stay on pets for up to 10 days, feeding on their blood and increasing the chance of transmitting serious illness to them. If you see a tick on your cat, remove it as soon as possible.

Cat on a lap having it's nose stroked
Cat on a lap having it's nose stroked

How should I remove a tick from a cat?

Using the right technique is important because we don’t want to leave the tick’s mouthparts in the skin, where they can cause discomfort or infection. The wrong technique could also make the tick become stressed, which could increase the risk of a tick-borne disease being transmitted.

Removing a tick

  • Wear protective gloves as ticks can carry infections that affect humans too

  • Part the cat’s hair away from the tick to help reach it more easily

  • Slide a tick remover tool against the skin to catch the tick in the V-shaped section of the tick remover tool

  • Twist the tool gently in one direction only (either clockwise or anticlockwise) to release the tick’s jaws and pull the tick out.

  • If you just pull out the tick without twisting, its mouthparts could be left behind and cause an abscess

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What should I do with a tick I’ve removed?

Put the removed tick in a sealed bag or container. Then either crush the tick while it’s in the bag or container, or wrap the bag or container with tape and dispose of the tick in your outside bin.

Alternatively, you can send ticks that are still in one piece to Public Health England’s Tick Surveillance scheme to help with their work.

Remember to wash your hands afterwards. And know that, even if you’ve removed a tick, there could be others on your cat – including tick larvae and nymphs. If you haven’t already used a tick treatment, treat your cat now for peace of mind.

It’s good to know that ticks tend to be less of a problem for our cats – partly down to their amazing ability to grown nearly every last square inch of their bodies and partly down to them being less likely to suffer badly with tick-borne diseases. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not a concern as ticks use an anaesthetic-like substance when they first bite to go almost unnoticed, even by our shrewd kitties. So, treating our cats can really help them stay healthy and avoid problems like local infections and abscesses where ticks bite – and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.


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