(Ponca City, OK)
Engorged tick on a child's head - image Wikimedia Commons.
In certain parts of the world and at certain times of the year ticks on cats are more frequently encountered. For instance ticks are mostly found near water and in meadows or near tracks. In warm weather they are more active. I had thought that there was little possibility of a tick finding its way onto a person but this is not the case.
Ticks on cats and dogs when living in the country are fairly common it seems or put it this way, they are not uncommon. It is just one of those things that you have to watch for and deal with. They can be prised off with a bit of skill.
But when our cat gets ticks there seems to be a real possibility that we can too and the consequences could, albeit rarely, be serious.
Ticks when not bloated by the blood that it sucks out of the host animal, looks much like any other external parasite but they are quite large relative to some - you can see them quite clearly and I guess feel them walking around on you. They apparently sit in tall grass or shrubs and wait for the host to walk by whereupon they drop on. Cat fleas behave in a similar manner but fleas jump on whereas ticks drop on.
Once they have found a nice warm, cosy spot on you they feed by inserting a probe into your skin (its chelicerae - cutting mandibles and hypostome - feeding tube are used). This might all go by almost unnoticed. But if the tick has been feeding on us and if the tick carries a small bacterium called Borrelia burghdor feri in its stomach it can give us Lyme disease. Apparently Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato is the main cause of Lyme disease in the USA. There are at least three types of bacteria causing Lyme disease.
Clearly it is important to get rid of a tick because of the small risk of getting Lyme disease. Apparently every year about 300-500 cases are reported (I am not sure if this is just in the USA). Ticks are also "vectors" for Q fever, Colorado tick fever, tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and Tick-borne meningoencephalitis..and more...!
Even though the chances of contracting Lyme disease is slim the potential damage that it can cause us is so high that it should be a concern to us.
The classic early sign is a bulls eye rash at the site of the tick bite, which arrives about 3 - 30 days after the bite. Other symptoms are flu like. It seems possible that we might think that we have the flu but the flu like symptoms caused by Lyme disease start up more promptly in my opinion. The usual slowish build up of typical flu symptoms is not present.
Soreness, muscle aches and fever follows and this can mean high temperatures and headaches. Pretty nasty stuff.
If untreated (with antibiotics) acute neurological problems can occur in 15% of patients that cover a range of nasty conditions including meningitis and facial palsy.
In conclusion, ticks on cats and humans is something that we should be conscious of in those parts of the world and in climates where they are more prevalent and more likely to drop onto us as the consequences could be nasty.
Cats, of course, also contract diseases from ticks. One such disease is Cytauxzoonosis which has been reported in south-central and mid-atlantic states of America. This disease only affects cats and is fatal to nearly cats who contract it. Cats suddenly develop anemia and organ failure. 12 days after the bite the cat becomes lethargic and stops eating. The cat turns yellow, has a fever and dies within a few days. It is believed that the Cytauxzoon protozoa (single celled non-fungal organisms) stays in the bloodstream indefinitely. It is carried by the common dog tick.
Ticks also cause Lyme disease as described above. The particular tick involved is the deer tick and black-legged tick (in the USA).
Keeping cats indoors and regular grooming by us helps massively to control ticks on cats. But even indoor cats get them from dogs. it is assumed that because cats groom they get ticks less often than dogs.
Other diseases transmitted from ticks to cats are:
- Anaplasmosis - signs are fever, appetite loss, muscle and head pain leading to anemia. Antibiotics are advised.
- Ehrlichiosis - a bacterial infection as well. Signs are similar to above and treatment is as before.
- The bacteria that causes cat scratch disease (in humans) is carried by ticks as well
- Feline Infectious Anemia - most frequent cause of anemia in cats.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever - in cats the symptoms are asymptomatic (neither causing nor exhibiting symptoms of disease)
- Q Fever - cats often do not show signs of disease but when they are shown the symptoms are: fever. Treatment: antibiotics. Cats can be carriers.
1. Cat Fancy Magazine Aug. 2009.