What you want to know about ticks and more
If ticks are ticking you off, consider what ticks may be doing to your beloved dog.
While fleas may be the number one nuisance dogs face, ticks are certainly number two. Annually, ticks cause harm to thousands of dogs.
Irritating and possibly life-threatening, ticks can range from a mild annoyance to a serious matter requiring immediate medical care.
Persistent little fellows, the two main reasons why ticks present such pervasive pests are:
- Ticks’ survival is dependent upon finding animals on whose blood they can survive.
- Ticks don’t have a ‘favorite’ season (though more common during spring and summer). As they exist throughout the entire year, they can be a yearlong problem.
I. TICKS: GENERAL INFORMATION
What are ticks?
Classified as ectoparasites, ticks are tiny organisms that enjoy nothing more than burrowing into animals’ fur and penetrating their skin. Parasitic organisms, ticks orally attach themselves to the skin of dogs, cats, and other types of animals and mammals. These animals then act as their “hosts.” In survival mode, ticks siphon the blood of their host, a process resulting in hypersensitivity, toxicosis, or blood-loss anemia.
Essentially as unwanted and uninvited guests, these parasites, aka ticks, find and take up residence in animals’ coats. Their survival relies upon drawing from the animal’s blood. Highly clingy in nature, ticks don’t like to let go. So, to remain attached, they will adhere themselves to the ‘host’ animal with a gooey, adhesive-like substance they create internally.
What is a tick bite?
A tick bite is the parasite’s act sucking the dog or cat’s blood, leaving behind red, sore, blotchy skin. This has the potential to cause intense irritation and possible infection.
What are the threats to pets?
More than just a mild nuisance, ticks can be quite dangerous to pets. When infected dogs may lick, chew, and scratch themselves. But, if more serious, dogs can exhibit such unpleasant behaviors as diarrhea and vomiting, and in extreme cases, even seizures.
Additionally, ticks can be transmitters of bacterial or viral diseases. If gone untreated, the skin, the lymphatic and immune systems, and the nervous systems, can be dangerously affected.
Fortunately, if pet owners can quickly identify and remove any visible tick(s), this significantly diminishes the pet’s risk of contracting any serious or long-term effects. However, depending upon the type of tick and the resulting condition, ticks that go undetected for a prolonged period can cause severe, long-term medical issues and possibly death.
*Note: Indications your dog has a tick infestation may be more latent in their appearance (delayed anywhere from seven to 21 days following a tick bite). If you suspect they may have been had contact with a tick, it is important to closely monitor your dog for any noticeable disruptions in their normal eating, play, and sleep patterns.
II. TICKS ON DOGS
Are ticks visible to the naked eye?
Yes and no, while adult ticks are viewable to the naked eye, those not yet fully formed (during the juvenile stages) can barely see.
Where on my dog is a tick likely to hide?
While bite marks around your dog’s paw areas may be a sign a tick invaded your dog, the actual perpetrator may be hiding out around your pet’s groin or buttock areas. They also may take up residence between a dog’s toes, behind front legs (armpits), in ears/eyes/eyelids, and underneath collars/harnesses. Basically, ticks prefer nooks, crannies, and other warm and dark places.
How do I extract a tick from my dog?
When attempting to remove a tick, begin by sanitizing your hands and sterilizing your instruments (tweezers) with isopropyl alcohol. Use antiseptic to clean your dog’s bite marks and other areas of infection.
Use fine-point tweezers to remove the tick. These will help you to remove the tick as a whole unit versus in multiple pieces. This methodology helps remove the potential spreading of infection should the tick remains get caught in any existing bite areas.
After ensuring you have not mistaken a visible tick for a dog’s mole, nipples, or skin tags, use the tweezers to exorcise the tick from its hiding place. Separate the dog’s fur and, using the tweezers and staying as close to the skin as possible, grab hold of the tick. Attempt to extract it in a very slow, gentle, upward motion.
Once dislodged, check the area for signs of infection or other resulting maladies. Monitor area for indications of potential long-term effects. Should skin/health issues persist, contact your veterinarian to schedule an appointment.
III. TICKS: PREVENTION
What can I do to help prevent my dog from getting tick bites and infestations?
Dogs are highly susceptible to tick bites and tick-borne transmitted diseases. There are no known vaccines for the majority of tick-borne diseases related to canines. So, it’s important to employ sound preventive measures on your dog, both inside and outside your home.
Dogs with longer hair make easier targets for ticks to latch onto and find a nice warm place in which to hide. While helping owners keep their dogs’ coats clean, well-trimmed, and matting-free, good grooming practices also prevent ticks from taking up residence.
What tick prevention products and medications are available for my dog?
- Topical – to discourage ticks from getting too friendly with your dog, use topical products. Some highly effective examples are flea and tick collars, sprays, medicated powders, and specialized shampoos (both after contracting and as a preventative measure). Serving to prevent future invasions or killing ticks on contact with the dog’s coat or skin, these external-use products prove less risky than their ingestible counterparts. As a holistic option, many endorse the idea of using an herbal tick repellent made from rose geranium essential oil. So long as the dog is not averse to the substance, you can apply it on the dog’s collar every day. This is quite effective as a tick-deterrent.
- Oral medications – Either taken as a liquid or as a chewable, prescription medications work by infusing with the dog’s blood. These are stronger than topical products. They are recommended in areas with high tick-related incidents and for certain high-need animals. Be mindful, in selecting tick-related products, consider the size and breed of your pet. Many of these products are not one-size-fits-all, and you need to assess based upon your pooch/feline’s specific characteristics. Age is a factor, as well. For example, if your pet is only two or three years old, it will require different treatments and applications than a senior-aged animal.
While the following basic guidelines may seem common sense, it bears no harm in repeating:
- Use only the specified amount for the size of the animal in question.
- Be aware that infirmed or elderly animals may have different reactions to a product than healthier, younger counterparts.
- Most products are not intended for use on puppies unless otherwise specified.
- The old standard still holds up. If the EPA or FDA approved a product, then it is deemed safe for use. This as opposed to a bootlegged remedy, which could contain harmful additives or cause unknown reactions in pets.
What specific outdoor concerns should I be mindful of when walking/playing with my dog outside?
It is recommended that you are careful NOT to let your pet roam freely in grassy, wooded areas where ticks are known to live in the wait of a host. Further, avoid letting your dog drink out of rain puddles or other wet spots on the ground or in the street.
What can I do within my own outdoor environments to help deter tick infestations from cropping up?
Outdoor landscaping and regular maintenance, like mowing of grass, raking and removing leaves and leaf piles from the property, and making necessary housing repairs to close up openings to the outside. This will contribute to safeguarding your home and outdoor areas from potential parasitic intrusions.
Further, keep playground equipment, decks, and patios wiped down and away from the property line and housing perimeter. Neatly stack wood in a dry area and removing any old, unused furniture or trash from the yard. Discourage unwanted wild animals from entering the property. All these measures will help eliminate dark, hidden spaces in which ticks and rodents tend to hide.
And, to avoid using substances harmful to your pet, you may want to consider home remedies known for their effectiveness in repelling ticks. For example, both cedar chips placed around the perimeter of a yard and splashes of tea tree oil spread out over the lawn help keep ticks at bay.
What can I do inside my home to help eliminate the presence of ticks and/or support a parasite-free living space?
Cleanliness goes a long way in helping prevent unwanted visitors. Engage in regular upkeep, including vacuuming rugs and floors (including baseboards), washing bed linens and pet-related items, like bowls/beds and clothing/toys, and using pesticide-free solutions to help clean and sterilize countertops and cupboards.
You should wash pet bedding weekly with hot water and a mild, eco-friendly (preferably) detergent. Bear in mind that ten minutes in the dryer on a hot setting is all you need to kill ticks, whether detected on clothing or bedding.
IV. TICKS: TYPES OF DISEASES, LOCALITIES, AND SYMPTOMS
What are the common types of ticks, and what are the specific threats they pose to dogs?
In the United States, nine unique species of ticks that transmit diseases to humans have been identified.
In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a total of 47,743 cases of tick-borne disease in the United States. The highest was Lyme disease with 33,666 cases, five times greater than that of the next most common, Anaplasmosis/ Ehrlichiosis with 6,123 cases.
- Canine Anaplasmosis, referred to as either dog fever or dog tick fever, comes from the deer tick. Symptoms (similar to most other tick diseases) include elevated temperatures, fever, decreased appetite, stiff and achy joints, and lack of energy. Watch for an added possibility of diarrhea, vomiting, and in critical cases, it can even bring about seizures. Classified as an infection, Anaplasmosis is not contagious but can affect both humans and animals.
- Canine Babesiosis, usually contracted from an American or a brown dog tick. Effects can include: anemia, gray-coloring to gums, weakness in limbs, or vomiting. Be on the lookout for American dog ticks in areas with reduced or zero tree cover, such as grassy fields and wetlands, as well as along trails and walkways. Though seasonally more abundant in spring and summer months, you may see these ticks in fall and winter.
- Canine Bartonellosis, inherent to the brown dog tick, impact of which is fever and lethargy. Untreated, it can cause chronic medical damage to the dog’s heart or liver. While spring, summer, and fall present the greatest risks, adult ticks may require a host anytime temperatures are above freezing.
- Canine Ehrlichiosis, probably the most common and most dangerous tick-borne disease parasite. Brown dog ticks transmit it. Symptoms, which may not appear for months, can include a bloody nose, confusion, decreased appetite, depression, fever, imbalance, runny eyes and nose, swollen limbs, and weight loss.
- Canine Hepatozoonosis, associated with the brown dog tick, as well as Gulf Coast ticks. Dogs can be infected if they happen to eat one of the types of ticks. Common symptoms include diarrhea with blood spots, elevated temperature, muscle aches, joint pains, and runny eyes and nose.
- Lyme disease, transmitted by deer ticks, is the most commonly occurring and most well-known tick-related disease. Often delayed, signs of contraction may include: decreased appetite, fever, joint stiffness, and swelling, and lethargy. A bacterial illness, Lyme disease, can be critical as it can affect the joints, heart, and nervous system, and skin.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a resultant of the American dog tick, the wood tick, and the lone star tick, can bring about neurological problems, skin lesions, and stiffness. Typically, the condition lasts up to two weeks, but it can lead to death in more severe cases.
V. TICKS: CHARACTERISTICS
What common characteristics do ticks share?
Ticks cannot fly or swim. Rather, they live on land, primarily in densely wooded areas or vast open pastures. To survive and interact, they need blood. Their method of obtaining it is by biting their prey: mammals, birds, and reptiles, or virtually any animal that subsists on small insects. On average, they have a lifespan of anywhere between two months and two years.
Similar to arachnids, like spiders and scorpions, ticks undergo four stages of life. They are egg, larvae, nymph, and adult (with the possibility of some species of ticks having multiple larvae and nymph stages). Differing from insects with defined body segments and distinctive heads, ticks have a unified head and body torso and legs that extend out toward the front of the body. They have six legs (three pairs) during a tick’s larval stage, yet as nymphs and adults, they feature eight legs (four pairs).
What types of ticks are known to exist?
There are two types of ticks: hard ticks and soft ticks. In the United States, nearly all ticks plaguing dogs and cats in the US are of the hard variety. Hard ticks’ name comes from their hard shield (scutum) on their back. Also, hard ticks have mouthparts extending outwards from their head. ‘Hard’ ticks are stubborn – as adults, they have the capacity to live for up to two years away from their host.
How do ticks consume blood, and how does this consumption define their appearance?
Known as “engorgement,” ticks’ (akin to vampires) draw off the blood of their hosts. Relative to their body size, ticks can ingest sizable volumes of blood. Before ingestion, ticks, on average, are about 1 millimeter in length. They resemble tiny, dried-up raisins. Engorged, however, they take the appearance of dark purples/black grape with the potential of reaching 20 millimeters in length.
In conclusion, basic tips to keep in mind when caring for your dog and attempting to steer clear of a parasitic-related incident:
- At some point in their life, a dog is likely to get a tick/parasitic infection.
- Some parasitic infections contracted by dogs can be transmitted to humans.
- By partnering with your veterinarian, you can protect your dog’s health and help prevent future parasitic episodes or lessen the severity of existing issues.
- By monitoring your dog and taking good care of their regular maintenance and bathing/grooming needs, you will be quick to notice changes in appetite, play/sleep behavior, water consumption, and weight fluctuations that could signify a concerning medical health-related problem.