Getting the Nitty Gritty on These Creepy Crawlies
Dr. Christine Nawas, BSc. DVM
Over the past few years we have been hearing more and more about ticks and the diseases they spread to both us and our pets. They have taken center stage as the parasite to prevent against due to the severity of the diseases they can spread to both humans and animals. With celebrities such as Avril Lavine coming forward with their diagnoses of tick spread diseases, such as Lyme Disease, it’s hard to ignore the impact that one tiny painless bite from these insects can have on a life. This goes for both us and our pets.
In years past, ticks were only considered to be a potential issue if you were going up North to a cottage or if you were going South to somewhere warm. This has changed considerably over the last few years. Most pets that we see with a tick bite, or with an attached tick, have acquired their hitch-hikers in their own back yards. You no longer need to venture far to come into contact with ticks due to the changing weather patterns in our area and the adaptation of the ticks to cooler temperatures.
Ticks are active any time the temperatures are 4*C or higher, and they are most active throughout the spring and fall months. This has been the consensus for some time now between parasitologists around the world studying the tick. However, over the last couple of years the experts believe that ticks are actually adapting to our cold temperatures, meaning that they may be active at lower temperatures in some cases. For the time being, we are recommending that we protect our pets from ticks whenever the temperatures are 4*C or above.
Ticks are slow moving creatures that tend to latch on to passers-by as they “quest” for a meal. When they do this, they climb to the top of a blade of grass or the edge of a leaf and they stick out their frontlegs looking for their next meal. They can sense heat, movement, and CO2 to know whether the object passing by would provide a good snack or not. They will then climb onto their host and find a spot to feed. Ticks feed by burying their mouth parts under the skin to get a blood meal. They will feed for several days from the same spot, drop off the host, and moult into their next life-stage in the environment. Most tick species will complete this cycle a total of three times before laying eggs to complete their lifecycle.
Ticks start out as being very, very small. This is known as the “larva” stage. These freshly hatched baby ticks can be as small as a poppy seed and their usual meal of choice comes from a small mammal, such as a mouse, or a bird. This is where they typically contract the diseases that they can later spread on to us and our pets. They then drop off their tiny hosts and moult into the next life-stage known as the “nymph”. This stage is still very small and is generally about the size of a sesame seed. These are the ticks that generally bite and spread diseases to humans as they are so tiny, and they are almost impossible to see on our pets even when they have short coats. The third stage is the “adult” tick. The size of this life stage really depends on the species of tick but they are generally easier to spot on humans and on shorter coated dogs, but on long coated breeds it can still be extremely difficult to detect them!
Humans generally get exposed to ticks through being in an environment where wild life frequent (birds, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, mice, deer, etc), or they may be exposed through their pets as well! If your dog or cat comes in from outside with a tick hitch-hiker in tow, their next blood meal may be from you!
So, now that we know a bit about how these bad boys (and girls) operate, let’s get to the Cole’s Notes version of what you need to know to keep yourselves and your pets safe!
1) Protection is the KEY! There are three main ways in which we can protect our pets against ticks and the diseases they can spread.
- Control the environment. Stay out of long grass or areas where there’s lots of brush/leaves and check your pets and yourself for ticks when coming in from outside. Wear long sleeves and pants when walking in the woods.
- Vaccinate your dog for Lyme disease. There is a very safe and effective vaccination now for Lyme and it’s an excellent idea for pets who frequent areas where they have contracted a Lyme spreading tick in the past or areas where there is known endemic Lyme Disease.
- Get your pets on a safe and effective preventative! Bravecto for cats and dogs as well as Credelio for dogs are both extremely effective at preventing ticks from spreading diseases to our pets.
2) If you find a tick on your pet, or on yourself, get it off as soon as possible!
- Ticks need to be feeding for 12 – 24 hours before they are able to pass on diseases to us or our pets, so the faster you can safely remove them the better
- If you find a tick on your pet please bring them in to see us to have the tick removed. It’s EXTREMELY important to take the tick off carefully and correctly so that the mouth parts are removed from under the skin. If they break off and stay in the bite area, it can cause infections later on. If the tick is squeezed to hard it may actually cause them to release the diseases inside thereby infecting you or your pet when they wouldn’t have otherwise done so
- If you are so inclined to remove the tick yourself, please use a Tick Twister as this will give you the best chances of getting the tick off whole without causing further damage.
3) If you have taken a tick off of your pet, please be sure to bring them in for a 4DX test 4-6 weeks after it was removed to ensure that they did not contract any diseases that need to be treated
- Lyme Disease, as well as the other commonly spread tick diseases, can be treated effectively with antibiotics if they are detected early. Generally, these diseases do not begin to cause issues for many months after our pets have contracted the disease, so it’s best to catch things early!
4) Get your pet on prevention as soon as temperatures rise above 4*C! Don’t wait until June when we typically start your pets on heartworm prevention!
- PLEASE make an appointment to have your pet in for their 4DX wellness bloodwork testing and parasite prevention when the temperatures begin to warm up above 4*C.
- Many people choose to keep their pets on year-round tick prevention to drastically decrease the chances of their pets getting a tick even during the winter months as our temperatures fluctuate so drastically!
Ticks can be a scary (and gross) thing to have to deal with, but they are here in our environment now and they are here to stay! Let us be your partner in helping to prevent them from being a danger to you and your pets. We look forward to seeing your dogs in for their 4DX Wellness bloodwork screening this spring, and your cats for their wellness bloodwork, as well as a discussion on which preventative would be best for your unique pet. We are always here to help you in any way that we can, and we are very happy to answer any questions you may have about ticks, tick spread diseases, as well as safe and effective prevention methods to keep your family protected.