What is a tick?
Ticks are 8 legged ectoparasites (external parasites) that are closely related to spiders. Ticks are often hard to see because some are no bigger than the size of a sesame seed. Ticks live off the blood of wildlife, pets and people. There are a wide variety of ticks that can transmit harmful and potentially fatal diseases to our pets such as Lyme disease, ehrlichosis and anaplasmosis to name a few.
Where are they found?
Ticks have become a growing concern in Ontario and other provinces. Particularly in our Rouge Hill area at this stage.
Hiding out in their preferred habitat they are attracted to cool damp areas such as dense shrubs, grassy meadows, wooded areas, sandy soil and rivers. The presence of other tick hosts such as deer, rodents and raccoons in these locations is also a good indication of higher populated tick areas. Their most active times occur in the spring (April and May) and fall (September to November) depending on temperature fluctuations. Owners tend report their pets came in contact with these parasites while camping, hiking or hunting in these areas. But they can often be found right in our own parks and backyards.
How does my pet pick up a tick?
Unable to jump or fly, ticks will position themselves on grass, leaves or other objects and hold their first two sets of legs out awaiting for their next unsuspecting host to pass by while running or playing. They can sense potential hosts by detecting breath and body odours, as well as heat, moisture and vibrations. They will then quickly grab ahold of their fur and make their way to a thinner skinned area where they will prepare to feed.
Cats can also pick up ticks but due to their habitual grooming techniques, they often remove the ticks before they are found by owners.
How does a tick feed?
Once the tick finds a suitable feeding spot on our pets, they pierce and insert their hook-like mouth parts into the skin of our pets. With their heads buried they begin to feed off of their blood. After they begin to feed ticks, will become engorged with blood and can quadruple in size. Ticks need to feed off a host in each of their 4 stages of development to survive and continue their life cycle. Once they are done feeding they will drop off into the environment, where they will mature to their next life stage and adult females will lay their eggs.
How do I find a tick on my pet?
The best way to find ticks on your pet is to check them over every time they come in from an area that may be suspected of being inhabited by ticks. Ticks prefer to attach around the head neck, ears and base of the tail. Run your hands over your pet’s entire body feeling for the presence of small bumps. If you feel anything unusual, spread the fur to get a closer look at the skin. Once you have identified that your pet has a tick, quick removal is key.
Why is it important to remove ticks quickly and safely?
Ticks are carriers for a number of diseases including Lyme disease, ehrlichosis and anaplasmosis. Lyme disease can start to be transmitted after 24hours of attachment. Since some ticks are very small they go unnoticed for long periods of time and by the time they are detected, the tick has already started to feed and has become engorged for several hours. Ticks also carry other infectious agents that can be contracted through mucous membranes or broken skin. Therefore, careful removal is very important.
How do I remove a tick?
It is recommended that you bring your pet to the vet clinic for proper and safe removal of any ticks found on your pet. If you are removing the tick at home follow these steps for safe and easy removal:
• Wear gloves while removing any ticks to avoid any potential infections.
• After the tick is located, use blunt or fine tipped tweezers to get as close to the skin as possible.
• Using the tweezers, apply a steady and gentle upward force without twisting, crushing or jerking to avoid detaching the head.
• Once the tick is removed it is important to examine the tick and bite area on your pet to be certain the head was entirely removed.
• If you suspect the head has become detached, make an appointment with your vet to have the area examined.
• Thoroughly clean and disinfect the bite wound with antiseptic cleaner.
• Place tick into a sealed container or sandwich bag and bring it into the clinic for proper identification.
• Wash your hands after handling the tick.
• There are also special tick removers that allow the tick to be completely removed. These “tick twisters” are available here at the clinic
How do I test for Lyme disease?
Only certain varieties of ticks transmit Lyme disease. To properly identify a tick that has been found on your pet, you can bring the tick into the clinic in a sealed container and we can send it out to an outside lab for proper identification.
A blood test can also be performed on your pet 6 weeks after exposure to help rule out Lyme disease.
How do I prevent my dog from encountering ticks and Lyme disease?
There are a number of products available at the clinic that will stop the tick from attaching all together or kill the tick once attached. Ask your veterinarian which product would best suit your lifestyle.
It is also important to know that some of these preventions are not safe to have around cats and can be quite toxic.
Consider introducing a Lyme vaccine into your dog’s vaccination protocol if they are frequently visiting high risk areas.
This picture depicts the growth and significant size change of The Brown Dog Tick during engorgement
FYI- The Brown Dog Tick is the only tick that can complete its entire life cycle indoors.
Written by Tanya, RVT and WHAC Clinic Manager