The peak of tick season has arrived. Dog enthusiasts should beware as this year’s crop of ticks is extremely heavy due to mild winters and recent rains. The best antidote to protect dogs against ticks is the use of tick preventatives, annual screening for tick-borne diseases, and practicing head-to-tail body checks after being outdoors.
Ticks are skin parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. Ticks enjoy the motion, warm temperatures from body heat, and the carbon dioxide exhaled by mammals, which is why they are attracted to such hosts as dogs, cats, rodents, rabbits, cattle, small mammals, etc. The tick bite itself is not usually painful but the parasite can transmit diseases which is why tick control is so important. It takes several hours for an attached tick to transmit disease, so owners can usually prevent disease transmission to their pets by following a regular schedule of a Tick prevention product. Although there is no way of knowing the number of dogs affected annually by tick bites, tick-borne diseases have become a growing threat to dogs and people. Some diseases are transmitted as quickly as three to six hours after a tick bite, therefore the possibility of a Tick bite causing sever or life-threatening illness warrants being tick smart.
Ticks can transmit diseases that they contracted from their previous hosts and can pass the disease to pets and humans. Ticks can carry many diseases because they attach to many different mammal species, birds, and reptiles. Lyme disease is one that most people have heard about, but Ehlichiosis, a Rickettsial disease, is another possibility and its progression from acute to chronic stage can be prevented by early treatment. Babesiosis causes red blood cell destruction and anemia. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is the most prevalent Rickettisal disease in humans. However, as long as you stay on top of the situation and use Tick prevention regularly, your pets should cruise right through the tick season with no problems.
Ticks have four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Most types of ticks require three hosts during their two- year life span. Each stage of a tick’s life requires a blood meal before it can reach the next stage. Adult female’s ticks will feed and engorge, increasing their weight by more than 100-fold then detach to lay 3,000 to 6,000 eggs. Ticks lay their eggs in secluded areas such as dense vegetation or protected areas in the house. Once the eggs hatch, the ticks are in the larval stage during which time the larvae move into other areas to search for their first host where they feed and then fall back to the ground. The nymph stage begins after the first blood meal is complete. Nymphs remain inactive during winter and start moving again in spring. Nymphs find a host, usually rodent, pet, or human. Nymphs are generally the size of a freckle. After the blood meal, the nymphs fall off the host and move in to the adult stage. The adults again find a host, which is usually a rodent, pet, or human. The adult female feeds for 8 to 12 days. The female remains inactive through the winter and in the spring lays her eggs in a secluded place. If adults cannot find a host animal in the fall, they can survive in a leaf litter or secluded place in your house such as inside the walls, until the spring.
Many people think ticks are only present in the woods. However, ticks can be found in many areas: where woods/fields meet lawns, tall brush/grass, under leaves, under ground cover plants in yard, around stone walls and woodpiles where mice and other small mammals live. Some may even take up residence in the walls and crawl spaces of houses. You can make your yard less attractive to ticks with landscaping. Here are some simple landscaping techniques that can help reduce tick populations. Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns. Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas and around patios and play equipment. This will restrict tick migration into recreational areas. Also mow the lawn frequently and keep leaves and debris raked and removed.
There have been amazing improvements in tick and flea control products in the past few years. We now have highly effective oral and topical monthly treatments (and one that’s given every three months), plus now there is finally an effective tick and flea collar that can last up to 8 months. But remember, ticks and tick-borne illness are on the increase,
therefore it is very important to maintain consistent parasite protection with no interruptions in protection. Indoor control is difficult because of the many possible hiding places. Because tick eggs may hatch over a period of up to 5 months, more than one treatment may be necessary to eliminate the problem completely. Available insecticides for indoor treatment include sprays and dust formulations. Treatments must be applied around sleeping quarters of household pets, around baseboards, window and door frames, wall cracks, floor coverings, and similar places where ticks might conceal themselves. Do not spray animal quarters directly. Replace bedding in animal quarters after treating. Some insecticides are available only through professional pest control applicators which may be necessary if there is a significant infestation.
Ticks are more than annoying pests. They also spread potentially severe diseases to people and pets. The presence of ticks is also deceiving because most of a Tick’s life is spent in hiding and not on our pets, so just because you don’t see them, that doesn’t mean there not present. While the control of Ticks and other parasites can be difficult, there are many new and effective tools that can be used to combat these pests. Remember, your family Veterinarian can help guide you through your pet’s health care!