Although ticks are commonly thought of as insects, ticks are actually arachnids like scorpions, spiders and mites. All members of this group have four pairs of legs as adults and have no antennae. Adult insects have three pairs of legs and one pair of antennae. Ticks are among the most efficient carriers of disease because they attach firmly when sucking blood, feed slowly and may go unnoticed for a considerable time while feeding. Ticks take several days to complete feeding. Ticks are vectors for some nasty diseases like Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosos, and canine and feline babesiosis.
Illustration of size of ticks, click the link to see
Illustration of size of ticks, click the link to see a larger illustration of 3 species of ticks.
Ticks have four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. Like many other insects and invertebrates, life begins with a tiny egg. Usually a fertilized female lives through the winter, and with the warming of spring, she lays her eggs, then dies. The eggs hatch in about a month, and the little hatchlings are called larva. They have six legs and are hungry to find a host. Many larvae often hatch out in close proximity to one another. Together they migrate to the top of tall grasses or brush. When a likely host wanders by, they all extend their tiny legs and grip on. Several hundred may get brushed onto the host at one time. Because of sheer numbers and tiny size many people refer to them as "seed" ticks, and indeed they will make every effort to plant themselves in the skin of the unwary host. They begin feeding as soon as they can but feeding is a long, slow process, taking at least four to eight hours in many species and as long as several days in others. There is generally no discomfort from a feeding tick.
After feeding, the larval tick drops from the host and rests, allowing the meal to digest. In many species they are inactive for a long period of time, as that will be the only meal for that season. Eventually the larva molts its skin and becomes a nymph, a miniature version of the adult, now sporting eight legs instead of just six. The eight-legged nymph follows the same pattern of locating a blood meal, dropping off, resting and molting again. Some species need one host, some two, and others many hosts before they finally are able to molt into the adult tick.
Since wandering about the forest floor isn't a very good way to find a mate, ticks generally find one another while still on the host. The smaller male mates with the female, often when she is still attached to the host and feeding. When she drops from the host the courtship is over. It's a whirlwind romance for her and a last meal for him, as he dies soon after.
Ticks wait for host animals from the tips of grasses and shrubs (not from trees). When brushed by a moving animal or person, they quickly let go of the vegetation and climb onto the host. Ticks have been known to live up to three years waiting for a meal to walk by. Ticks can only crawl; they cannot fly or jump. Ticks found on the scalp have usually crawled there from lower parts of the body. Some species of ticks (e g: lone star tick) will crawl several feet toward a host. Cold weather does not kill ticks. In fact, that is when deer tick numbers (often referred to as the blacklegged tick) are at their highest. In many parts of the country, including northern New York, the months of Sept, Oct, and Nov are when most humans and animals contract Lyme disease since the whitetail deer is the primary carrier of deer ticks. Ticks can be active on winter days when the ground temperatures are about 45° Fahrenheit.
Lyme disease has been reported in almost every county in New York State. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by the deer tick. Signs of Lyme disease in dogs is difficult to detect, and warning signs may not appear until several months after infection. Signs may come and go and can mimic other conditions. Cases vary from mild to severe. In severe cases of Lyme disease, kidney failure can occur.
These are the most common symptoms of Lyme disease:
Other Diseases/Health Issues
Different tick-borne diseases are found in various parts of the country so it is a good idea to find out from your vet what TBDs are present in the area where you live and what symptoms they can give rise to if your pet becomes infected. Click the link to view common ticks that have been found in New York State . One thing must be mentioned here, as many people don't understand this: tick-borne diseases cannot be passed by contact . If your dog has a TBD, you're perfectly safe touching him/her, holding him/her, and playing with him/her. (S)He cannot infect you or your other animals. TBDs are carried only by ticks (vectors) independent of the dog.
Apart from these TBDs, a tick bite can cause skin irritations in some sensitive animals and can exacerbate an existing skin sensitivity problem. In extremely heavy infestations, ticks can cause anemia from blood loss.
Prevention of tick infestation is the primary means of controlling TBD. Keeping pets out of grasses and wooded areas helps to reduce their exposure to ticks. Even with these precautions, it is easy for a tick to crawl on your pet when he or she is outside. Products that kill ticks on and repel ticks from your pet are needed. Your vet can prescribe a topical medication which kills/prevents ticks for a month. It is waterproof after 2 days and is safe to use on puppies and kittens as young as 8 weeks of age. There is also a yearly Lyme disease vaccine for dogs to prevent this blood-borne disease.
Treatment of a tick infestation is usually less complicated than treating for fleas. If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, then regular dipping and spraying for ticks during peak tick months might be required. In northern New York, these months are May through October. Be aware that cats can be very sensitive to the various anti-tick products and therefore it is essential that you consult a veterinarian to ensure the product is safe for your pet before using it. Do not spray where runoff could go into streams, lakes or rivers. Read the label on all insecticides and apply them as directed. Keeping grass mowed and removing leaves and clearing brush and tall grass from around the house and kennel areas can help reduce the number of ticks.
If you spend a lot of time outside with your pet, especially in wooded or grassy areas, it is a good idea to check both yourself and your pet for ticks after each outing. Ticks are very small and the early stages are especially difficult to see. Use latex exam gloves to examine your pet for ticks. Examine using good lighting. Check your pet for ticks by thoroughly feeling for any lumps under the hair. Pay close attention to ears, around face, eyes, legs, and belly. You might find what appear to be different types of ticks. Male ticks are smaller than female ticks and an engorged female is much larger that an unattached one.
The changing female deer tick as she
The changing female deer tick as she engorges on blood meal.
If you find a tick on your pet or on yourself, it is important to know how long the tick fed before you discovered it. Was the tick flat (meaning it attached recently) or engorged (meaning it had fed for an extended time)? Research conducted at Ohio State University has indicated that transmission of Lyme disease begins at approximately 24 hours after tick attachment. Other diseases may vary. If the ticks are unattached , you can simply remove them from your pet with a pair of tweezers. Unattached seed ticks, which are about the size of a pinprick, can be removed using masking tape. Just place the sticky part of the tape against the ticks. If the head is buried in the skin of your pet, it is best to contact our clinic to arrange to bring your pet in for tick removal. If you cannot get the pet to a veterinary clinic, and need to remove the tick yourself, carefully follow these instructions: removing an attached tick.