Ticks are a parasite related to the spider family more that the insect family. They feed on the blood of their host and are efficient carriers of disease. Once they are attached, they inject a chemical that numbs the skin, then they slowly feed over several days. Many of the diseases that are spread by the ticks are not transferred until 48 hours after attachment, so if ticks are removed early, the chance of disease transmission is reduced.
There are several species of ticks and 4 species most commonly are encountered on our pets.
- American dog tick
- Lone star tick
- Deer or Blacklegged tick
- Brown dog tick
Ticks have for life stages similar to insects but varies just a little bit.
- Six-legged larvae
- Eight-legged nymph
The female tick lays between 200 and 6,000 eggs on the ground after having engorged herself from a blood meal on the host animal and mated. The female tick dies soon after laying her eggs and the male ticks usuually die after mating with a few females, but some can live for a few months. The entire life cycle requires as little as 2 months to 2 years, depending on the species of the tick.
Once the egg hatches, tiny six-legged larvae commonly referred to as a “seed tick” find a host animal and feed on it. The larvae the molt into the larger nymph and they now have 8 legs. The newly emerged nymph now finds another host to feed again. After ingesting another blood meal, the nymph molts again and now becomes an adult tick. The male and female find another host to feed on, mate and start the cycle once more.
Dogs, people and other animals pick up ticks when walking through the grass or woods. The ticks crawl up the to the tips of grasses and shrubs with their legs extended and wait for a host animal to walk by. The vibration of the host animal tells the tick to let go of the vegetation and they quickly crawl up the host. Hundreds of ticks can crawl on the host at one time. In people, you can usually find ticks at the hair line. In some dogs, I have had so many ticks feeding on a dog that they actually became anemic and needed blood transfusions and I have had some that died from the acute blood loss.
How can ticks be prevented?
There are many types of tick preventatives available. Some products are available over the counter, but care must be taken because some products contain permethrins which are very toxic if applied to cats of if the product is given by mouth when it should be applied on the skin. Several products are applied directly to the skin of the dog and repeated every month. In especially heavy tick infestations, these products may not be enough and consulting with your veterinarian will be beneficial in finding a better remedy. Some of the tick preventions are also combined with the flea and heartworm prevention. Frontline, Advantix, Revolution, Kiltix, Promeris and the Preventic collar are a few products that are labeled for ticks. Check with your veterinarian to see which products are working well in your area and are safe to use on your pet.
What should I do if I find a tick on me or my dog?
Use a pair of blunt tweezers of a disposable glove to handle the tick. Yhe new Tick Key is great for pulling out ticks. Try not to handle the tick with your bare skin because infections agents in the body fluids of a tick may penetrate breaks in the skin or through mucous membranes. Diseases such as Lyme disease or ehrlichiosis are capable of infecting humans.
Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. This will grasp the head of the tick and reduce the possibility of the head detaching from the body when it is removed. Pull the tick straight out with a steady even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick because this may leave some mouth parts embedded in the skin. Also, try not to squeeze the body of the tick because this will increase the chances of infections. It may take a a minute or two of gentle pulling to get the tick to release from the skin.
After removing the tick, disinfect the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water. Avoid home remedies such as applying petroleum jelly or grease, and do not try touching the tick with a hot match. These methods do not work and may actually make the tick salivate and increase the risk of disease transmission.
You may want to preserve the tick in rubbing alcohol and take it to your veterinarian for identification. Certain ticks transmit different diseases and it will help your veterinarian know which tick your pet had in order to effectively treat your pet. If the tick has been on your pet longer than 48 hours, check with your veterinarian to see if they might prescribe antibiotics.
Stay tuned for the rest of the series.
Debra Garrison, DVM