Ticks can be a potential problem for your dog or cat at certain times of the year. Here are a few facts about these troublesome parasites:
Like other arachnids, ticks proceed through a four-step life cycle, beginning with an egg and progressing through larva, nymph, and adult. All three of the later stages require a blood meal to progress to the next phase of their life. However, the larva and nymph stages are more likely to feed on rodents and other small animals and are not commonly found on dogs and cats. The adult stage prefers larger hosts, and it is these adult ticks that we generally find on humans and pets.
While searching for a potential host on which to hitch a ride, ticks present a fascinating behavior known as “questing.” First, a tick uses its ability to detect motion and its incredible sense of smell to locate the approach of a likely host—even noting subtle nearby changes in carbon dioxide levels from the host’s breath. Once a close encounter seems likely, the tick climbs to the edge of a blade of grass or plant and waits with its front legs stretched out. When contact is made, the tick simply crawls onto its new, unsuspecting host. This behavior helps explain why forays into deep brush, grass, and woodsy areas can result in an elevated number of tick encounters. It’s best to avoid taking your dog into these areas during the prime tick season, but if exposure is unavoidable, consider applying a tick repellent beforehand and giving your dog a good going over afterwards.
It’s common for people to find ticks crawling on their heads, and this fact can lead to the false conclusion that ticks are capable of flight, or are able to jump from higher locations (such as trees) onto people or animals below. Neither of these assumptions is true. Ticks are only capable of steady—albeit pedestrian—crawling. A tick that is found near your head has almost certainly crawled unnoticed up your body, sometimes searching for an area of thin skin (such as near the ears). No jumping is involved.
It’s no secret that ticks have the ability to cause disease in dogs and cats. But how does this occur? It isn’t usually the bite of the tick that causes trouble (the exception being tick paralysis), but the pathogens that the tick carries that are then passed into the host through the bite. Common tick-borne pet illnesses include Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasmosis. Treatment usually includes antibiotics.
If you do find a tick on your dog, immediate removal is essential. Experts universally agree that a tick should be pulled off in a straight, steady motion, pulling as close as possible to the head of the tick. This prevents you from leaving behind any portion of the tick’s head or jaws (which can lead to irritation and infection) and also prevents further transmission of disease that could occur if the body of the tick is squeezed while still attached.