Ticks: How to Protect Your Pets from Tickborne Diseases

by Bruce W. Little, DVM


Spring & Ticks

Spring is already here in many parts of the country. It is warm in the South and Southwest, where the flowers are in bloom. Spring always brings the threat of ticks that attach to your pets. If tick bites are not properly treated then they can cause severe complications for your pet, as well as for your human family members. It’s important to start checking your dogs, cats and horses now to see if there are any signs of ticks. Symptoms may not develop until much later in the summer, but now is the time to prevent ticks from latching onto your animals. Many species of ticks survive the coldest of winters, and actually prosper during the winter months. Therefore, veterinarians recommend keeping your pets on anti-tick medications throughout the entire year.

How Ticks Spread

According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), who studies the treatment of parasites on animals, ticks have been steadily spreading across the United States. There are several varieties of ticks, which are usually named after the geographical location where they reside. However, ticks seem to be spreading beyond their original geographic locations. Some attribute this spread to the simultaneous spread of white-tail deer in search of feeding grounds. Others attribute the spread to the rise in family travel with pets. In this case, ticks attach to our pets and hitch a ride back home, where they breed, mutate and acclimate to the new environment. Pet owners must learn to deal with it.

8 Types of Ticks

Below are eight different varieties and descriptions of common ticks in North America from the CAPC:

American Dog Tick: This tick can be found throughout the United States. It effects all species of animals, and is found in city parks, dog parks and any wooded area. It’s capable of transmitting Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Tularemia in addition to causing anemia in your pet.

Brown Dog Tick: This tick can be found throughout the United States. It transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Erlichiosis, Anaplasmosis and Rickettsia. This tick can live year-round in a controlled environment, such as carpeting and upholstery.

Deer Tick: This tick is also called the Eastern black-legged tick, and is found primarily in wooded areas in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. However, it has also spread to nearly every state and Canada. It has a predilection for the white-tailed deer, so it can be found wherever these deer live. Deer ticks are the primary carriers of Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, human Babesiosis and Erlichia.

Western Black-Legged Tick: This tick is also called a Deer Tick, and it inhabits wooded areas. It also transmits Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis.

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick: This tick lives in the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. It can survive in altitudes above 5,000 feet, and it’s known to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tularemia and Rickettsia.

Gulf Coast Tick: This tick is very large in size and very aggressive. It was found originally in the Gulf Coast states. However, it’s now spreading north and reaching as far as Southern Illinois and Ohio. This tick is the carrier of American canine hepatozoonosis, an extremely debilitating disease of dogs. The causative agent Hepatozoon americanum is actually eaten and swallowed by the dog as it cleans itself, which causes the disease. It has also been known to carry Rickettsia.

Lone Star Tick: This is a very aggressive tick found in wooded areas of the eastern two-thirds of the United States. The female can lay 8,000 to 9,000 eggs at a time and can transmit a wide variety of diseases to dogs, cats and humans.

Spinose Ear Tick: This tick is covered with spines all over its body. It spends its time in the ear canal of dogs, cats and horses causing severe irritation and discomfort. They are not known to carry any diseases. This tick has an unusual life cycle, as do most soft bodied ticks. Rather than one nymph stage that drops off the animal and develops into an adult tick, the Spinose ear tick has many nymph stages and stays in the ear canal feeding off the blood of their host causing irritation and anemia.

The Life Cycle of Ticks

The life cycle of ticks includes an adult, larval and a nymph stage. The adult female tick lays numerous eggs at a time. In the case of the Lone Star Tick, adult females lay as many as 8,000 to 9,000 eggs at a time, which develop into larvae that later develop into the nymph stage. All three stages are capable of attaching to animals by biting into their flesh, sinking into their mouthparts or attaching under their skin. You should check your pets daily to see if you can find ticks. Ticks in the smaller nymph stage are not as evident. Also, it’s possible you will find adult ticks crawling on your animal that are not yet attached. These ticks can be bedded down in the coat of your dog or cat, and are hard to find if they are not engorged. The engorged tick is quite noticeable when you run your fingers over the surface of the skin of your pet. If you find a tick, engorged or not, remove it with a pair of tweezers. There are also plastic instruments that you can purchase from a pet store to help remove ticks. These instruments are shaped like a claw hammer, and they fit down over ticks to lift them from their feeding place. These instruments also work best on engorged ticks. It’s important to always wear gloves when you are removing ticks from your pets. This will prevent you from contracting zoonotic infections. Try not to crush the tick as you remove it from your pet, as that may enhance the chances that you might contract whatever disease that tick may be carrying.

Treatment

Acaricides are parasiticides that are developed for the treatment of tick infestations. These may be administered topically, in long-acting collar formulations or orally. Your veterinarian will tell you which acaricide to use and the dosage. It is very important to use parasiticides only on the species prescribed for the medicine by your veterinarian. Never give cats tick control medications prescribed for dogs or medications prescribed for cats to your dogs. Consult your veterinarian and follow his or her directions.

Year-Round Prevention

The CAPC supports year-round tick control products for pets, because some ticks can infest houses and kennels every month. There are also substantial changes to the annual, seasonal and geographic presence of ticks. 90% pet owners are looking for information on tick infestations, treatment and prevention, according to a recent study done by the CAPC and Bayer Animal Health Products Company. If your veterinarian does not communicate with you about these parasites, ask him or her specifically about how you should manage your pet and your pet’s environment regarding ticks. Your family and your pets will thank you.

For more information on ticks, go to: The Companion Animal Parasite Council

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