Ticks aren’t as mobile as fleas or mites. Rather than jumping or running, they sit patiently, waiting for an unsuspecting host to pass by so they can hitch a ride. Ticks are common in wooded areas, meadows with tall grass, beach grass and brush. These pests can even detect carbon dioxide emissions from several feet away and laboriously make their way to a sleeping dog.
Once on the dog, a tick buries its head into the dog’s skin and feeds off of the dog’s blood. Its abdomen swells with each meal and it continues to feed periodically. While the female feeds, the male mates with her. After about a week of feeding she drops off the host dog (or other mammal) to the ground where she can lay up to 5,000 eggs.
Two to five weeks later the tick larvae emerge from the eggs and find another dog to feed on. After feeding for several days, they drop to the ground and over a two-week period molt into nymphs, or tick larvae. The nymphs find a host to feed on for up to ten days, then they fall to the ground where they begin their final molt. Two weeks later the adult male and female ticks emerge and begin their search for a new host so they can repeat the reproduction cycle.
Tick Removal Steps
Examine your dog at the end of the day (every day) for ticks. Check his entire body. If you find a tick, follow these steps to remove it.
- Put on a pair of latex or vinyl gloves.
- Using a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick where the mouth parts enter the skin.
- Using a gentle steady motion, pull the tick away from the skin until it lets go.
- Don’t crush or squeeze the tick. Doing so can spread infectious organisms.
- Examine the tick to ensure that you’ve removed the head.
- Using warm soapy water, clean the bite wound and the area surrounding it. Rinse well.
- Apply an antiseptic to help prevent infection.
- Place the tick in a vial of alcohol and label it with the date. Ask your veterinarian to identify the tick and the diseases it might carry.
- Wash your hands thoroughly.
Health Risks of Tick Exposure
Besides being ugly, nasty pests, ticks can affect your dog’s health. Most tick-borne diseases require the tick to be “attached” for about 24 hours, so daily checking is important. Here are some of the conditions associated with ticks:
- Lyme disease: If you live in a tick-infested area, talk with your veterinarian about vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease (borreliosis). Lyme disease, caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgorferi, causes lethargy, loss of appetite, lameness and fever.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever: Early use of antibiotics can effectively treat this disease, so rapid identification of symptoms is important. Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include fever, rash or skin hemorrhages, depression and joint pain.
- Ehrlichiosis: This bacterial disease results in a blood infection that causes lethargy, loss of appetite, low-grade fever and swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms typically appear eight to twenty days following infection by E. canis. While ehrlichiosis can be treated with antibiotics, a chronic form can follow treatment and can affect multiple organs.
- Tick paralysis: A neurotoxin released by female ticks during feeding can cause weakness, loss of coordination or sudden quadriplegia five to nine days following attachment. Removal of the tick(s) reverses symptoms of tick paralysis.
Environmental Tick Control
Because ticks thrive in shady humid environments, minimizing those conditions is the most effective means of controlling the tick population. The following are some suggestions for defending against ticks:
- Cut back brush.
- Keep grass mowed.
- Prune trees to allow sunlight to penetrate.
When entering a potentially tick-infested area, protect yourself by:
- wearing protective gear—a light colored, long-sleeve shirt and long pants tucked into socks and a hat
- using an insect repellent containing DEET
- checking yourself thoroughly for ticks when you’re through
- promptly removing any ticks found.