From April through September, there’s a common parasite to look out for on your pet: ticks.
These bugs are small but mighty and can cause serious problems for your pet if they’re not removed.
Pet owners of all types should be well-versed in where their pets can pick up ticks, how to remove them, and how to prevent ticks in the first place. Here are all your tick questions, answered:
Where can my pet get ticks?
Contrary to popular conception, ticks don’t fall from trees. They tend to live in grasses and brush. Your pet will probably pick up this parasite while they’re sniffing around the grass, on their daily walk, or just hanging out in the yard.
What’s the big deal about ticks?
While ticks are small, they have a mighty bite. Ticks, like all parasites, use a host for sustenance. When they bite your pet, they can transmit diseases into your pet.
Some of the most common tick-transmitted diseases are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis.
Lyme disease is probably the most recognized tick-transferred disease. It’s usually found in deer ticks or black-legged ticks. It’s most prevalent in the northeast and upper midwest U.S. Unlike in humans, Lyme disease in pets does not have the characteristic bulls-eye rash. Symptoms usually include arthritis, joint swelling, and poor appetite.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be spread by the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick. Common symptoms include fever, lameness, poor appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. The highest incidence of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is in Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Anaplasmosis is usually spread by the black-legged or deer tick. It causes lameness, fever, joint pain, lethargy, and poor appetite in your pet. Usually, anaplasmosis is most commonly found in the northeast, upper Midwest, and the Pacific coast of the U.S.
Finally, ehrlichiosis is spread by the Lone star tick. This is usually found in south-central and eastern U.S. Ehrlichiosis has three clinical stages: acute, sub-clinical, and chronic. Acute is the early form of the disease and includes of fever, swollen lymph nodes, and weight loss.
The sub-clinical phase doesn’t show any symptoms: this is dangerous because, without symptoms, the disease can’t be diagnosed and treated. From the sub-clinical phase, ehrlichiosis evolves into its final and chronic stage. This causes anemia, bleeding, lameness, eye problems, and swollen limbs in your pet.
All of these diseases are dangerous for your pet and even yourself. A tick can transmit these same diseases in humans (although, if your pet does develop any of the above diseases, you’re not at risk for infection directly from your pet).
What do I do if I find a tick on my pet?
Because of the risks associated with ticks, finding and removing them as soon as possible is important. Ticks should be removed from your pet within 24 to 36 hours to prevent disease.
When your pet comes in from outside, check them thoroughly for ticks. You should especially look out for ticks between your pet’s toes and around their eyes, ears, tail, and groin.
Pets scratching or biting themselves repeatedly in one area may also be trying to indicate that there is a tick you may have missed, so keep an eye out for those signs.
Once you’ve found a tick, you need to remove it.
Use tweezers or a tick removal device to remove ticks rather than using your fingers. This prevents the risk of a disease spreading to you via tick saliva or blood.
Place the tweezers around the tick as close to the skin as possible. Then, pull the tick steadily and slowly away from the body. Do not try to twist or jerk the tick. Also, do not crush or squish the tick. This can cause the tick to vomit into your dog or can force body fluids into your dog which can lead to an increase in possible infection.
Once the tick has been removed, clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soapy water. Don’t worry if the mouth of the tick stays in your dog, as this will fall out within a few days.
Flush the tick down the toilet, submerge it in rubbing alcohol, or seal it in a plastic bag to kill it. If you’re concerned your pet may be infected by the tick, keep the tick for testing in alcohol or a plastic bag.
You may have heard of removing ticks by putting nail polish, vaseline, burning off the tick, or repellants on the tick directly. This can cause the tick to vomit into your pet, leading to an increased risk of infection.
Also, after the tick has been removed, throwing it in a trashcan or down the sink will most likely result in the tick crawling out again.
How do I prevent ticks from getting on my pet in the first place?
There are ways to avoid ticks from biting your pet to begin with.
Some of the most common include:
- Spot-on treatments: These are usually monthly medications that are applied topically to the back of your pet, between the shoulders. Common brand names include K9 Advantix and Frontline.
- Oral medications: Pills given once a month to prevent fleas and ticks in your pet. They’re ingested orally by your pet. Nexgard is a common brand for these medications.
- Shampoo: This tick treatment involves bathing your pet in a medicated shampoo that kills ticks. This needs to be more frequent than oral or spot-on treatments: every two weeks is generally the period of time between each wash. Paws & Pals Natural Dog Shampoo, Sentry Flea and Tick Shampoo, and Wondercide Natural Flea & Tick Shampoo Bar are all common brands.
- Tick collars: This treatment is good at preventing ticks from latching on to your pet’s head or neck area. This, like your pets regular collar, attaches around the pet’s neck. Seresto and Preventic are popular name brands.
The best way to ensure you have a tick prevention solution that’s good for your pet and you is to consult your veterinarian. Also, watch for signs from your dog including excessive scratching and rashes, as these could indicate an allergic reaction to a topical treatment.
These solutions may not be infallible so even if you have your pet on medication or treatment to prevent ticks, be sure to check them after they go outside.