What Does a Tick Look Like?
Ticks are very small, parasitic insects that look like spiders, with round, brown bodies and legs. They attach themselves to the skin and feed on blood; the tick’s bloated body rests on the victim’s skin, with its head burrowed just under it.
Ticks reside in heavily wooded areas or fields, and are most active in the spring and summer months. They can be carried into the home on clothing or on pets and then crawl onto human skin. Not all ticks carry disease, but some do transmit them. The wood tick, or dog tick, can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever; other ticks, including the deer tick, can transmit Lyme disease. Ticks can also carry viruses that lead to encephalitis. Only a few people who are bitten by ticks become sick, but prompt removal lessens the incidence of tick-borne diseases.
Symptoms of Tick Bites and Lyme Disease
The tick bite itself is not painful but, after a few hours, the bitten victim will notice slight irritation and itching at the bite wound and that the tick still attached to the skin.
Lyme disease will first appear as a ring-shaped rash at the bite wound; there is a red ring with a central zone that gradually becomes paler (resembling a bulls-eye). An itchy, hot rash can occur several days to a few weeks after the tick bite and it can spread out from the bite wound. The rash usually lasts for approximately three weeks, and it can become as big as four to six inches in diameter. There may also be multiple “target” lesions or rashes.
A child with Lyme disease may also have generalized flulike symptoms, such as fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, and lethargy. A rash may or may not develop.
Lyme disease rarely causes problems with the heart and nervous system, but Bell’s palsy may develop; this affects the facial nerve and causes paralysis on one side of the face. A child with Bell’s palsy will not be able to wrinkle his brow or shut his eye, and his smile will be crooked. The child will need to be treated with a two to three week course of antibiotics, and most children make a full recovery.
How to Remove a Tick
Some ticks carry disease and transmit it through a bite. Prompt removal of the tick in the first 24 hours reduces the risk of disease.
- Gather a clean pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass.
- Using the tweezers, grasp the tick at a point close to its mouth and pull it out gently. Avoid squeezing the tick’s belly, as this may push germ-carrying blood into your baby’s body.
- If part of the tick remains in the skin, try to remove it as you would a splinter. Do not dig and cause discomfort.
- Place the tick in a sealed bag before discarding.
- Clean the bite area and apply a doctor-recommended topical first-aid ointment. Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Check it daily for signs of infection (redness, swelling, fever).
Always call the doctor if:
- You can’t remove the tick.
- You are able to remove the tick, but the tick has already been on your child for more than 24 hours.
- Your child is having difficulty breathing or any type of severe reaction from the bite.
- You notice that your child’s face or smile is lopsided/crooked
- A rash, a fever, or flulike symptoms develops in the two weeks after the bite. The symptoms may indicate a tick-borne disease and require antibiotics.
How to Prevent Tick Bites
Do not avoid the outdoors because you fear tick bites, but do take proper precautions if you visit a field or a densely wooded area.
- Always dress your child in a shirt with long sleeves and pants that can be tucked into socks. Light-colored clothing can make it easier to spot crawling ticks. Check the clothing for ticks often.
- Insect repellents, applied to the skin as well as to clothing, can help prevent tick bites. Depending on your child’s age, products that contain less than 10 percent DEET (the active ingredient in most insect repellents) are safe and effective.
- Once inside your home, remove your child’s clothing and check for ticks on the entire body. Ticks are usually found on the scalp, in the armpits, on the skin between the fingers and toes, and in the groin area.
- Have all family members check their clothing and skin, and be sure to check pets as well.
All About Ticks and Dogs
The Dangers of Ticks to You and Your Dog
Ticks are an indisputably dreaded enemy. No one wants to find ticks anywhere near the family dog. You certainly don’t want a tick on or near you! Besides the obvious “icky” factor, ticks are bad news because they may transmit diseases and even cause anemia or paralysis.
As a dog owner, there are some basics you should know about the risks of ticks, as well as their removal and prevention. With proper knowledge, you can help protect your dog from the threat of ticks.
All About Ticks
Ticks are parasitic arthropods that feed on the blood of their hosts. They are attracted to warmth and motion, often seeking out mammals. This includes people, dogs, and cats.
Ticks tend to hide out in tall grass or plants in wooded areas waiting for prospective hosts. When a host is found, the tick climbs on and attaches its mouthparts into the skin, beginning a blood meal. Once locked in place, the tick will not detach until its meal is complete. It may continue to feed for several hours to days, depending on the type of tick.
On dogs, ticks often attach themselves in crevices and/or areas with little to no hair, typically in and around the ears, the areas where the insides of the legs meet the body, between the toes, and within skin folds.
Most species of ticks go through four life stages: eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults. All stages beyond eggs will attach to a host for a blood meal (and must do so in order to mature). Depending on species, the lifespan of a tick can be several months to years, and female adults can lay hundreds to thousands of eggs at a time.
The following types of ticks are among the most common seen in North America:
- Deer tick
- Brown dog tick
- Lone star tick
- American dog tick
The Dangers of Ticks
Though they are known vectors of disease, not all ticks transmit disease. In fact, many ticks carry no diseases. However, the threat of disease is always present where ticks are concerned, and these risks should be taken seriously. Most tick-borne diseases will take several hours to transmit to a host, so the sooner a tick is located and removed, the lower the risk of disease.
The symptoms of most tick-borne diseases include fever and lethargy. Some tick-borne diseases can also cause weakness, lameness, joint swelling and/or anemia. Signs may take days, weeks, or months to appear.
Some ticks can cause a temporary condition called tick paralysis, which is manifested by a gradual onset of difficulty walking that may develop into paralysis. These signs typically begin to resolve soon after the tick is removed.
If you notice these or any other signs of illness in your dog, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible so that proper testing and necessary treatments can begin. The following are some known tick-borne diseases:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
What Can You Do About Ticks?
If you live in a region where ticks are found, you should check your dog for ticksafter coming in from the outdoors, especially if he has been in a wooded area. Ticks should be safely removed and dogs watched for signs of tick-borne illnesses. Dogs at risk for ticks should be treated with some form of tick prevention. Ask your vet about the safest, most effective tick prevention products available.
Finding and Removing Ticks from Your Dog
To search for ticks on your dog, run your hands all over the body, paying close attention to the ears neck, skin folds and other crevices. You may prefer to wear latex gloves. Closely examine any raised areas closely by parting the hair, making sure you are in a very well-lit area (you can even use a flashlight). Depending on species and life stage, a tick may be as small as a pencil point or as large as a lima bean (when engorged). If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, or your dog spends a lot of time in high grasses or wooded areas, you should check for ticks once or twice a day. If you find an embedded tick, be sure to remove it promptly. Here’s how:
How to Remove a Tick From Your Dog
- Wear latex gloves to protect yourself. Use a pair of tweezers or a specially-designed tick removal tool to grasp the tick at the point of attachment. This should be done as close to the skin as possible. Two tick removal products options include the Tick Twister and The Tick Key buy on Amazon
- Be very careful NOT to squeeze the body of the tick, as this may cause bacteria and disease containing materials to be injected into the site.
- Pull the tick straight out from the skin slowly and steadily (without twisting or turning). Some of your dog’s skin may come off with the tick, but this is normal. If bleeding occurs, apply light pressure to the area.
There are really no shortcuts that can make a tick release itself from its host – a tick will not voluntarily detach until its meal is complete. DO NOT apply hot matches, nail polish, petroleum jelly, alcohol or other chemicals to the site. These methods are not effective and can actually be harmful to your dog.
The symptoms of tick-borne diseases can take weeks to months to appear. Be sure to contact your vet if you notice signs of illness in your dog.
Tick Prevention for Dogs
The best way to protect your dog from the hazards of ticks is to keep them from attaching to your dog in the first place. As stated earlier, routine checks should be done to search for ticks on your dog. Finding them before they attach is helpful, but this is not the most accurate method of prevention. To reduce the number of ticks hiding out in your yard, keep grass mowed and plants neatly trimmed. You may also choose to treat outdoor areas with pesticides, but be sure to use a substance that is safe for dogs and preferably environmentally-friendly.
One of the most effective ways to keep ticks off your dog is to directly apply a tick prevention product specifically designed for dogs.
Topical products like Frontline and Advantix are designed to be applied monthly to prevent ticks. Another option is a tick collar, such as the Preventic collar. Some products are available over-the-counter while others require a prescription. Though approved for use on dogs, be aware that these products contain toxic components and should ALWAYS be used according to the directions. Do not use extra amounts of a product or apply more than one at the same time. Take note that most of these products are highly toxic to cats. Talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your dog’s lifestyle. Also be aware that not all products will work for every dog, so a bit of trial and error may be in order.
With the proper knowledge, you can help defeat the dreaded tick and protect your dog, your family and yourself from the dangers of tick-borne diseases.
The Dangers of Ticks in Cats
Understanding the Dangers of Ticks in Cats
If you have a cat, you may be familiar with ticks. And you’re probably familiar with the many commercials and advertisements that encourage you to purchase products to get rid of ticks or prevent them from feeding on your cat. We place a lot of importance in preventing ticks in our pets because ticks are more than just blood-sucking arachnid parasites; along with mosquitoes, ticks are responsible for transmitting many diseases in cats.
Some of these include:
Cytauxzoon. This disease is serious and usually fatal. Caused by a protozoan parasite, affected cats will show signs that include lack of appetite, depression, fever, anemia and jaundice. Most cats diagnosed with Cytauxzoon die within a week.
Relapsing Fever. This is an uncommon disease caused by a bacterial infection of Borrelia. Signs of this disease lead to the common name, intermittent and relapsing fevers, lack of appetite and lethargy.
Ehrlichia. This is a common disease transmitted by ticks. Ehrlichia is caused by a rickettsial organism and is characterized by anemia, low platelet counts, bleeding, fever, lethargy, neurologic disease and multiple leg arthritis.
Q Fever. This disease is caused by the rickettsia Coxiella burnetii. Most cats affected with Q fever do not show signs of illness but some become weak, develop diarrhea, fever and neurologic disease. In pregnant cats, spontaneous abortion can occur.
Tularemia. This bacterial disease is also transmitted by ticks and is most often associated with rabbits. Cats affected with the bacteria Francisella tularensiswill show signs of fever, draining abscesses and may succumb to a bacterial blood infection.
Feline Hemobartonella. This blood parasite is not fully understood. Previously thought to only be transmitted by fleas, it is now thought to also be transmitted by ticks. Cats affected with hemobartonella typically develop anemia from excessive red blood cells breakdown, caused by the parasite.
How to Remove and Prevent Ticks in Cats
Ticks, are irritating arthropods that prey on cats. Their goal in life is to find a warm-blooded creature so that they can feed. Veterinarians and pet owners have been battling these tiny parasites for decades and the war continues.
Ticks are members of the Acarina order and are not insects. Ticks and mites are in a class all by themselves. In the transmission of disease, mosquitoes and ticks are the primary concern, with ticks being the most important.
Ticks are divided into 3 different families. Only 2 of these families are present in the US, the Ixodidae (hard tick) family and the Argasidae (soft tick) family. Within the Ixodidae, there are about 60 different species that have been reported in the US. Within the Argasidae family, there are about 20 reported US species.
There are 4 stages in the life cycle of a tick: egg, larva, nymph and adult. This life cycle can be completed within 2 months. The larvae, nymph and adults all feed on blood and after a feeding, the tick falls from the feeding source and the larva will molt to a nymph, the nymph will molt to an adult and the female adult will lay eggs. Male ticks ingest far less blood than females.
When ticks are in need of a blood meal, they seek out prey by heat sensors. When a warm object passes by them, they attach to this object by clinging to clothing or fur or falling from trees onto the object.
After the prey has been chosen, the tick migrates to an area that has little hair or does not present difficulty in feeding (the ears and skin around the ears or lips are common places). The tick inserts its pincher-like mouthparts into the skin and begins feeding. These mouthparts are locked in place and will only dislodge when the tick has completed the meal. Once the meal is complete, the adult female will fall from the prey and seek shelter. Eggs are born and the adult female dies.
Many methods have been tried to remove ticks, many of which are not recommended. Applying a recently extinguished match or even a still lit match to the body of the tick will NOT cause the tick to back out and fall off. The mouthparts only let go when the tick has completed the meal. Also, applying fingernail polish will suffocate the tick but will not cause the tick to fall off.
- The best recommendation to remove a tick is to use a tweezers or commercially available tick removal device and pull the tick off. Do not touch the tick since diseases can be transmitted. Consider wearing gloves when removing a tick.
- With a tweezers or tick removal device, grab the tick as close to the head as possible. With steady, gentle pressure, pull the tick out of the skin. Frequently, pieces of skin may come off with the tick.
- If the head of the tick remains in the skin, try to grab it and remove as much as possible. If you are unable to remove the entire head, don’t fret. This is not life threatening. Your pet’s immune system will try to dislodge the head by creating a site of infection or even a small abscess.
- Usually no additional therapy is needed, but if you are concerned, contact your family veterinarian. There are surgical instruments that can be used to remove the remaining part of the tick.
Tick Control and Prevention
Control and prevention of ticks is extremely important in reducing the risk of disease associated with ticks. This includes removing the ticks as soon as possible and trying to prevent attachment.
Tick avoidance requires avoiding environments that harbor them. Extra care should be taken in the woods and areas with tall grass or low brushes. When traveling, be aware that certain areas of the country have a much higher incidence of ticks (i.e. the northeast). In addition, since they can be carried unknowingly from one place to another on clothing or the body, it is always possible for an individual or animal to come into contact with a tick.
Ticks may be killed by spraying, dipping, bathing, or powdering, or applying topical medications to affected individuals with appropriate tick-killing products. Tick collars or products applied topically may act to prevent attachment of new ticks and to promote detachment of ticks already attached.
There are many products on the market that control ticks. Some are over the counter; others are prescription, only available through your veterinarian. Whether one purchases an over the counter or prescription product, it is a good idea to consult your veterinarian first.
Some of the safest and most effective products that your veterinarian may recommend include topical spot-on products and certain tick collars. Topical spot-on products are generally applied on the skin between your pet’s shoulders once a month. Some are effective against other parasites as well (i.e. fleas, internal parasites). Systemic topical products include Frontline® and Frontline Plus® (fipronil with or without methoprene, an insect growth regulator) and Revolution® (selamectin). Tick products for dogs should NEVER be used on cats because severe toxicity and death may occur.
Ticks are considered excellent carriers and transmitters of various diseases. Ticks within the Ixodidae (hard tick) family transmit the majority of disease. The brown dog tick and the American dog tick are the most common carriers of disease. This includes cytauxzoon, ehrlichia and Lyme disease.
Although all ticks have the potential to transmit disease, the vast majority of tick bites are disease-free. Still it is a good idea to check your pet frequently for any signs of ticks, after he or she comes back from a potential tick infested area, even if using tick prevention medications. Finding these pests and quickly removing them are important methods of controlling potential disease. The sooner ticks are removed from your pet, the less likely any disease transmission will occur.
The best method of controlling disease transmission is through a combination of tick avoidance and using tick preventative medications.
Your veterinarian can decide the best method of tick control for your pet, based on his or her risk factors (potential exposure, life-style, geographic location), and the need for any additional parasite control coverage. The advent of the many tick control medications has made tick control and prevention of disease easier and safer than ever.