Cat ticks are nasty, little, bloodsucking parasites that can cause harm to your cat and to you as well.
The Life Cycle Of Cat Ticks
While there are about species of 865 ticks worldwide, there are only about 12 or so in the U.S. that are of major public health importance.
Most cat ticks have four stages to their life cycle: egg, larva (seed tick), nymph, and adult. Tick eggs are laid in the spring. Some female ticks can lay as many as 3,000 eggs. The tick egg can be found almost anywhere but they are usually found on the ground – in long grass or wet leaf piles as female ticks love warm, moist areas.
If the tick eggs are laid in the spring, they will hatch in the summer and emerge as larva or “seed ticks”. These larvae have six legs and look a lot like an adult tick but smaller. Larval ticks will be clustered on the egg mass after hatching. When they are ready to feed, they will ascend blades of grass or similar vegetation to await a host.
All stages of the tick are obligate blood feeders. They must obtain a blood meal to molt and move to its next life stage and for the females to lay eggs.
This means that in order to grow, the larva must get a blood meal from a host. Its first host is usually a small mammal or lizard. To do this, the larva assumes a questing position by clinging to the leaf litter or vegetation, with a pair of legs outstretched to grab the host. The larva will feed on its host, and then drop to the ground to digest its meal. One to three weeks later, the larva molts and becomes a nymph. During this larval stage, the insect typically feeds only once.
The Tick Nymph
A tick nymph looks like a smaller version of the adult, down to the fact that it has eight legs. It must then find another host, which usually is a bird or small mammal. Once the nymph finishes feeding, it also drops to the ground and continues developing. There are species of the soft tick that will molt several times, feeding on blood before each molt. After its final molt, the nymph becomes an adult tick – either a soft tick or a hard tick.
The Adult Tick
In the final stage of its life cycle, the nymph molts and becomes an adult tick. Hard ticks normally go through only one nymphal stage while some soft ticks go through multiple stages, gradually getting bigger, until the final molt into the adult stage. Soft ticks feed several times during each life stage and the females lay multiple small batches of eggs between blood meals. The time to completion of the life cycle of a soft tick is usually much longer than that of hard ticks and can last over several years.
The adult female tick’s egg laying process may take from several days to two or three weeks to complete. It may lay anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand eggs, depending on the tick’s species. The female tick dies shortly after laying her eggs.
Cat ticks are not jumpers. They detect hosts through several host odors, body heat, moisture, vibrations and, for some ticks, a visual clue such as a shadow. When a potential host passes by, the tick becomes excited, waving its front legs in order to grab the host. Once a tick is on a host, it may attach quickly or wander over the host for some time.
Health Issues Related To Cat Ticks
The biggest health issues related to ticks on cats are the diseases they can transmit to your cat. The three most prevalent cat tick related diseases are Tularemia, Haemobartonellosis and Cytauxzoonosis. It is also possible for cats to develop Lyme disease but this happens only rarely.
Tularemia In Cats
Cats are more susceptible to Tularemia than dogs. Its symptoms are generally loss of appetite, listlessness and a low fever. An infected cat will also develop an abscess at the site of the cat tick bite and will have enlarged lymph nodes. To date, the best antibiotic to use in treating tularemia has not been determined. Newer antibiotics such as enrofloxacin (Baytril) and ciprofloxacin may be effective.
Haemobartonellosis In Cats
If your can contacts Haemobartonellosis, the disease can run the gamut from being very mild, with no symptoms or only a slight anemia, to a very severe disease. Signs that your cat may have this disease include depression, loss of appetite and dehydration. If the disease is severe, the pronounced anemia could result in severe weight loss. Haemobartonellosis is treated with antibiotics such as tetracycline, oxytetracycline, or doxycycline – which are generally given for three weeks.
Cytauxzoonosis In Cats
Cytauxzoon felis is a one-celled parasite that infects cats, causing the disease Cytauxzoonosis. If your cat develops this disease, it will become extremely ill. The signs of Cytauxzoonosis include sudden listlessness, loss of appetite, anemia, high fever, difficulty breathing and jaundice. It is commonly fatal and the cat often dies in less than two weeks after symptoms first appear. Until recently there was no effective treatment known for this disease. However, the combination of atovaquone and azithromycin has showed good promise.
Human Tick Related Health Issues
Tick borne diseases are becoming a more serious problem as people increasingly build homes in formerly uninhabited wilderness areas where the ticks and their animal hosts can be found.
Cat ticks actually represent more of a threat to humans than to cats. The reason for this is because we humans can develop many tick borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, tick-borne relapsing fever and, though it is less common in humans, tularemia.
Of these diseases, the one that has received the most attention is Lyme disease. It is transmitted by the deer tick, and affects different areas of the body in varying degrees as it progresses. The infection causes an expanding reddish rash and is often associated with loss of appetite, lameness, lethargy, and fever. Scientists believe the disease can affect humans for a long time, causing problems to the joints, heart, and central nervous system.
One of the newest tick borne diseases is called Southern tick-associated rash illness or STAR, which produces a rash similar to that of Lyme disease.
Cat Ticks – A Threat To Cats And Their Owners
Tick-borne diseases represent a threat to both cats and their owners. If you believe your cat has been infected with any of these diseases, it is crucial that you get it to your vet for treatment as quickly as possible. As you have read, these diseases can be life threatening. For example, if you do not catch Cytauxzoonosis early on, the odds are that your cat will not survive.
If you think you may have contacted a tick-borne disease, it’s just as important that you see your healthcare provider immediately as one of these diseases could cause you to have a serious disease.
The good news about the diseases from cat ticks is that if you can get your cat immediate treatment at the hands of an experienced veterinarian, it can enjoy many more happy years of life.