TIcks and pets during the summer

TIcks and pets during the summer

Veterinarian Karen Halligan demonstrates the right and wrong ways to remove a tick from a dog's fur.

If you live near any type of wooded areas then at some point in your life you have encountered a tick. Do you have pets and found a little black bug that looked like a fat raisin and when you took it off it was filled with blood that was a tick. Ticks are also known as the blood sucking vampires of the bugs. They not only suck the host’s blood but can also transmit deadly diseases into the blood stream.

TIcks and pets during the summer

Tick after eating off its host

Courtesy of University of San Diego

There are over 900 species of ticks in the world and depending upon where you live are to which kinds you will see. Most commonly in Georgia is the American Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick and the Deer Tick. Ticks have been found fossilized in two stages; first origin 65 to 146 million years ago and most of the evolution and dispersal estimated 5 to 65 million years ago.

Ticks life cycle is similar to the flea but unlike the flea they eat off hosts during their entire cycle. They start as an egg and hatch into larvae. The larvae feed on small mammals like mice or squirrels before it molts into a nymph. The nymph feeds on larger hosts like raccoons and opossums before molting again into a full adult tick. Adult ticks feed on dogs, cats, humans, livestock and such.

The female lays her eggs at this point which can be as many as a few thousand eggs at one time. The cycle starts all over again. Adult male ticks dies after mating but the female can live on for years. Adult females die after laying anywhere from 2,000 to 18,000 eggs.

Common characteristics of the Georgia native ticks are as follows:

  • Lone Star Tick – Most common in Georgia and they can transmit bacteria that can cause human monocytic ehrlichiosis (HME) and southern tick associated rash illness (STARI)
  • American Dog Tick – Second most common tick in Georgia and they transmit Ricky Mountain Spotted Fever. These ticks require to be attached to the host for at least four hours in order to cause illness.
  • Deer Tick – These ticks transmit the bateria that causes Lyme disease and also the human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA). They require being attached to their host for twenty-four hours to cause illness.

Ticks cannot jump like fleas but they rather just sit and wait for a host to walk by and they actually attach themselves to clothing, hair or skin as the host passes. Ticks actually stand with two of their legs waving in the air waiting for a dog or cat to walk by so when their fur touched them they can attach to the pet. The tick then moves its way down to the skin.

Once down to the skin of the host, the tick inserts a barbed feeding tube into the bite area. This area is numbed by the anesthetized saliva so the host does not even know the tick is there. The saliva also helps increase blood flow, prevents clotting and even suppresses the host’s immune system. All this sophistication and stealth from a little creature no bigger than a pencil eraser.

Once you notice a tick on your pet or yourself it is important you remove the tick immediately. Just grabbing the tick and quickly pulling it is a bad idea as their heads come off easily and they can still infect the host. You must follow a few simple steps in order to ensure the full tick is removed safely.

  1. Get tweezers, preferably fine pointed type, and grab the tick as close to the head and the host’s skin as possible. Never try to use just your fingers.
  2. Pull out the tick slowly and gently. Never jerk or twist the tweezers.
  3. Wash your hands and disinfect the tweezers.
  4. Kill the tick or save the tick and take it to your local veterinarian if you are afraid of your pet or yourself getting a tick borne infection. Be careful when killing the tick that you do it within a paper towel or something to not allow the contents of the stomach to get on you as you can still get infected.
  5. You can also buy a tick remover from your local pet store that works effectively as well.

Prevention of ticks is the best defense to keep them off your pets as well as yourself. Spray yards with tick repellant chemicals and treat your home with non-chemical products like food grade Diatomaceous Earth. Pets need to be treated with monthly prevention (topical or pill forms), tick collars, or even sprinkling small amounts of Diatomaceous Earth on them periodically. Pet owners can spay a variety of tick repellants on themselves before venturing out into a wooded area.

More prevention is in the way of keeping your lawn mowed and vegetation cut short. Remove leaf litter from under trees and shrubbery. Complete a tick check weekly on your pet or daily if they are outside a lot. When doing the pet check pay attention to small areas like ears, groin area, tail and even between the toes.