Pets and Ticks

Tick Talk - Small Animals and Tick Control

Ticks are small, biting parasites that feed on blood and are typically most active from spring through fall. They are most commonly found in wooded areas. Ticks come in many different varieties that not only look different, but also live in different regions and environments. They can transmit different types of diseases to both people and animals.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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Tick Facts

Ticks are actually small arachnids that can range in size from a pinhead, before feeding, to the size of a fingernail after feeding. Ticks feed on the blood of animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, deer, cattle, sheep and humans. Only the female ticks actually feed on blood because they need it to lay their eggs. Female ticks can lay around 2000 eggs, after which they will die. Ticks cannot fly or jump. Instead, they crawl into the undergrowth and long grasses where they can attach to animals as they walk by.

Ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas and fields of long grass. Tick populations are increasing due to multiple factors - changing weather patterns, increased development on rural land, and increased populations of deer. As a result, pet owners are starting to find ticks in previously unaffected areas.

Common Tick Species in the US

While there are hundreds of species of ticks in North America, five are frequently found and affect mammals in the United States. These are the deer tick, American dog tick, lone star tick, brown dog tick, and Western black legged tick.

There are two groups of ticks, sometimes called hard ticks and soft ticks. Hard ticks, like the common American dog tick, have a hard shield just behind the mouth parts. Soft ticks do not have the hard shield. Soft ticks prefer to feed on birds or bats and are seldom found on dogs or cats.

For more information on the identification and distribution of ticks in the US, check out this Tick Identification Guide.

Tick-borne diseases are not caused by the ticks themselves, but by bacteria or parasites that may be found in their saliva. Check out our article about Lyme Disease.

Symptoms of a Tick Bite

    • A red mark may be present after the tick has been removed. This should go away after 2-3 days and not exceed a few millimeters in size.
    • If part of the tick is left in the skin, localized reactions may occur: redness, swelling, rash, or infection.

How can you help your pet?

    • Speak to your vet about tick control that will rapidly kill or repel ticks.
    • Tick products work, but not 100% of the time. Check your pet daily if you’ve been in a high-risk area.
    • Check your pet for ticks after walks or after being outside. Make sure you check their ears, neck, skin folds, stomach, and other crevices.
    • Don’t forget to check your cat or rabbit after they’ve been in the yard.
    • If you find a tick on your pet, remove it right away.

What to do if you find a tick on your dog or cat?

If you’re not comfortable removing a tick from your pet, make an appointment with your vet clinic for removal as soon as possible.

Ticks can be difficult to remove. They have tiny spines that hold them tightly in place during feeding. Quickly pulling a tick away from the skin increases the chance of leaving the mouthparts in the skin. The safest way to remove a tick from your pet is to use a specially designed tick removal tool.

  • Grasp the tick gently. Squeezing the body too hard will cause the tick to regurgitate the contents of their stomach and salivary glands, increasing the risk of disease transmission.
  • Do not use Vaseline or alcohol to remove the tick.
  • Never burn the tick.
  • Never crush a tick with your fingers.
  • Dispose of the tick by putting it in rubbing alcohol, sealing it in a bag, or wrapping it tightly in tape.

Traveling with your pet?

If your pet travels outside the US, be aware that ticks in other countries can carry diseases that are not found in the US. These diseases can make your dog or cat very ill and can lead to death in severely affected or untreated cases. Therefore, preventative treatment for ticks is strongly recommended. For more information on travel requirements for your pet check out the USDA APHIS Pet Travel website.

When to See Your Veterinarian

  • If the redness associated with a tick bite persists or increases
  • If you notice any discharge from the area where the tick was removed
  • If you notice any of the clinical signs of Lyme Disease
  • A vaccine for Lyme Disease is available. However, it is only recommended for use in dogs known to have a high risk of exposure - where the disease is endemic or where there are high numbers of ticks.

Please note that any human health concerns should be addressed by your physician.

To read more about ticks and pets, check out the Pets & Parasites website.

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This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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