Ticks are not insects like fleas, but arachnids like mites, spiders, and scorpions. A tick has a one piece body, harpoon like barbs around its mouth to attach to a host for feeding, crablike legs and a sticky secretion to help hold itself to the host. The United States has about 200 tick species whose habitats include woods, beach grass, lawns, forests, and even in some urban areas.
They have a four stage life cycle, egg, larvae, nymphs, and adult. Depending on its species, a tick may take less than a year or up to several years to go through its four stage life cycle. Adult females of some species lay about 100 eggs at a time. Others lay 3,000 to 6,000 eggs per batch.
Ticks can carry various infectious organisms that can transmit diseases to cats and dogs as well as humans. The four primary diseases and their symptoms are:
– Babesiosis – lethargy, loss of appetite, weakness, pale gums
– Ehrlichiosis – high fever, muscle aches
– Lyme disease – lameness, swollen joints, fever, poor appetite, fatigue, vomiting
– Tick paralysis in dogs – gradual paralysis and poor coordination
Of the four diseases, Lyme disease is the worst, as it can also infect humans. Studies indicate that dogs are 50 percent more susceptible to this disease than humans. Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of the deer tick, also called the black-legged tick. Symptoms in humans include fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and a red circular skin rash. In June 1992 the USDA licensed a vaccine to prevent Lyme disease in dogs. There is no vaccine for cats yet.
If your dog is outside regularly, ask the veterinarian about the Lyme disease vaccine. Watch for the symptoms mentioned earlier, and if you suspect a tick-borne disease get your dog to the vet immediately. With early diagnosis, antibiotics generally work. If possible, dogs should be kept out of tick-infested areas. In areas where ticks are prevalent, yards where dogs exercise should be treated with appropriate chemicals to kill adult and immature ticks.
Dogs should be examined frequently for the presence of ticks on their bodies. Ticks prefer sheltered locations, such as inside the ears and between the toes of the host, but a heavily infested dog may have ticks anywhere on its body. When a tick is found it should be removed immediately. The proper way to remove a tick is to use fine-point tweezers, grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull gently, if the ticks mouth parts remain embedded in the animals skin, you should try to remove them as you would a splinter. Alcohol or other disinfectants should be used on the bite site, the tweezers, and your hands if you do not wear gloves.
Tick can and will survive after they are removed from the host. You should flush the tick down the toilet or drown them in a small container of alcohol. You should never squeeze a tick as it will release toxins that may contain any of the diseases discussed earlier. Hundreds of pesticides and repellants are available to control ticks on dogs and cats. Products range from oral medications that are available only from your veterinarian, to collars, sprays, dips, shampoos, powders, and spot-ons.
The chemicals Chlorpyrifos and Amitraz are used in several types of products and are very effective against ticks. Amitraz should not be used on dogs that are sickly, pregnant, or nursing. However, no matter what type of medication you use, always check with your veterinarian first.