How to remove a tick from a cat safely
If your cat spends time roaming the great outdoors without proper protection from parasites they can easily return with an unwanted tick. This unpleasant parasite will latch onto your cat with their strong mouthparts and feed on their blood for several days, potentially transmitting diseases they may be infected with, if it’s not safely removed. That’s why it’s best to keep all your pets protected with a preventative treatment.
Infected ticks can transmit diseases to your fluffy friends. You may have heard of Lyme disease, which is a serious bacterial infection carried by some ticks. Although it’s rare for cats to be infected with the disease, it can be serious when transmitted to people and dogs. Ticks that hitch a ride into your home on your cat may put your family and any other pets in your household at risk of disease.
Tick bites can also lead to skin irritation in cats, while particularly heavy infestations can lead to anaemia in severe cases.
If you spot a tick feeding on your cat, it’s important to remove it immediately to limit any risk to your cat’s and your household’s health.
Ticks look different before and while feeding. The most common tick you’ll see on pets in the UK is only a few millimetres long before feeding but grows to around a centimetre when it’s finished feeding on your pet’s blood.
When attached to your pet, the tick appears light grey in colour and looks a bit like a small bean. A tick can sometimes be confused with a small skin lump, but if you look closer and spot legs at its base, it’s confirmation that your poor cat has picked up the bloodsucking parasite. If you’re unsure, it’s worth speaking to your vet.
To keep your cat tick-free, it’s important to check your cat’s coat regularly, and immediately get rid of any ticks you find. Slowly run your hands over your cat’s fur and investigate any small bumps you feel. Dark, hidden areas of the body are a tick’s favourite places to bite, so ensure you examine your cat’s toes, ears, armpits and groin area carefully.
Find out more about how to spot a tick on your cat.
Ideally, you’ll need:
- A tick removal tool, such as a tick hook
- Someone else to gently hold your cat
- A pair of latex gloves
- Antiseptic wipes
- A small sealed container to dispose of the tick
If you discover a tick on your pet, you will need to remove it quickly and safely. Follow our step-by-step guide to safely freeing your pet from the grip of a tick.
1. Find a comfortable area
To keep your cat as calm as possible when removing a tick, choose somewhere quiet where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. You’ll also need somewhere with good lighting, as ticks aren’t always easy to see.
Place your cat on a stable surface at a convenient height, such as a table, where you can stand while you examine them and remove any ticks. However, if you’re on your own, you may find it easier to position your cat on the floor, kneeling behind them as you are removing the tick.
2. Put on a pair of gloves
Protect yourself by wearing gloves whenever you’re handling ticks as they can carry diseases that infect humans.
3. Handle your cat appropriately
If you’re on your own, then simply hold your cat between your knees as you kneel behind them, gently restraining them from running away. However, it’s much easier to remove a tick if you have some help.
Ask your helper to hold your cat by positioning its rear against their stomach (unless there is a tick here, of course!), using their forearms to gently restrain its body around their front limbs and shoulders. An alternative option is to hold the cat side-on against your body, with one hand across their body and another holding its shoulders. By doing this you’re able to stop the cat from backing away or wriggling free.
4. Part the fur carefully around the tick
Take care to keep your cat as calm as possible and part the hair so you can clearly see the tick attached to the skin, making it easier to get to.
5. Remove the tick
Take care to read the instructions provided with your tick hook. The hook needs to be positioned under the tick, as close to your cat’s skin as possible. Then twist while carefully pulling the tick, to safely remove the whole tick’s body without squeezing. If your cat gets distressed, or the tick doesn’t come out in one piece, seek advice from your vet. It’s a good idea to check the tick once you have removed it, looking for the head and mouthparts, and legs, to ensure you have removed the whole tick and none of it has been left behind.
6. Put the tick in a sealed container and then bin it immediately
Once you’ve grabbed the tick, put the tick in a sealed container, such as a jar or Ziploc bag filled with rubbing alcohol and dispose of it immediately.
7. Disinfect the area
Once the tick has been removed, wipe the affected area on your pet gently with a pet-friendly antiseptic.
8. Dispose of the gloves and wash your hands thoroughly
Make sure you clean your hands and tools thoroughly using disinfectant wash. Store your tool safely in case you need to use it again.
9. Reward your cat
It’s a good idea to reward your cat after you’ve removed the tick by praising them, giving them a treat or some extra playtime. This incentivises them to be good next time you might need to remove a tick!
10. Keep an eye on your pet
You should monitor your cat afterwards and check the bite area for any signs of infection or irritation. Sometimes a tick isn’t removed fully and the mouthparts, which have microscopic barbs, stay inside the skin. This can lead to infection and irritation.
If your cat is showing signs of illness or you’re at all concerned about them, you should take them to your vet.
- Do not use tweezers
Trying to grasp a tick is notoriously tricky because you need to avoid accidentally leaving the tick’s mouthparts in your cat’s skin. A tick removal tool does a much better job than a pair of tweezers, which can squeeze the tick and break it up, potentially leaving some of it behind in your cat and, increasing the risk of disease transmission.
- Do not remove ticks with your fingers
Aside from being incredibly fiddly, you should never try to grab a tick with your fingers because its saliva and blood can carry tick-borne diseases that pose a risk to people.
- Do not burn off a tick
When you try to burn a tick you also risk accidentally burning your cat. It will also stress the tick and cause it to regurgitate its gut contents increasing the risk of disease transmission.
- Do not ’suffocate’ it with a layer of petroleum jelly
Perhaps you have heard this common myth, but in reality, it can cause more harm than good. Instead of ‘backing out’ of your cat’s skin, the tick will simply burrow deeper making it even harder to remove.
For owners with cats who spend lots of time outdoors, especially those in areas known for ticks, it’s advisable to use a product to protect your cat against ticks. There is a range of products available including spot-ons and collars.
Seresto Flea and Tick Control collar provides up to eight months of protection against ticks and fleas in one application. It’s vet recommended and the longest lasting product on the market, providing a very convenient option for pet owners.
Seresto Flea and Tick Control collar kills fleas and repels and kills ticks without the need for them to bite your pet*.
Ticks carry many diseases including Lyme disease, a condition that affects dogs and humans and can cause fatigue, headaches, and arthritis, as well as more serious symptoms. New research has shown the number of new cases of the transmitted disease in people has increased to over 7000 every year in the UK1, and many more around the world.
For more information about avoiding tick problems, speak to your vet.
* Information is regarding mode of action and is not intended to imply parasites can be completely stopped from biting.
1 Cairns V, Wallenhorst C, Rietbrock S, et al. Incidence of Lyme disease in the UK: a population-based cohort study BMJ Open 2019; 9: e025916.