"Ticks." As a dog parent, chances are you already have chills just by reading this simple word. Aside from being creepy little creatures, there are also a number of tick species that can potentially affect your pet. These parasites are known to "tick off" a lot of small mammals and they bite humans, too!
As early as now, I'd just like to emphasize that having a few reliable tick removal strategies, such as getting your hands on a premium natural tick treatment product is a must if you have a dog or cat. Doing so isn't just about disease control, but also helps ensure that your pet's overall quality of life won't be significantly affected in a negative way.
Make sure you follow along because I will walk you through three (3) good reasons to be worried about ticks, whether they're still very tiny larvae or have already become male and female adults. Please proceed with caution because this blog post about ticks is definitely going to give you the heebie-jeebies!
How about we kick things off by finding out exactly what a tick is?
A Quick Primer on Ticks
Now while this may sound surprising, ticks are related to mites, scorpions and spiders because they also have eight legs. However, the family resemblance ends there. Ticks carry diseases and can set off potentially life-threatening repercussions to domestic animals if not dealt with the right way.
Tick bites do not just transmit Lyme disease and tick paralysis, but also trigger some rare but serious health problems like Colorado tick fever, Powassan virus disease, Rocky mountain spotted fever as well as Borrelia miyamotoi disease and Borrelia burgdorferi, among others.
But mind you, their ability to transmit disease isn't the only thing that you have to worry about these parasites. This is the reason why having a dependable tick treatment or natural tick preventatives in your home pet care checklist is really important.
Another thing to take note of is that it's incorrect to refer to ticks as "biting insects" since they're not insects at all. However, having an insect repellent (and rubbing alcohol) can help you keep clear from these unwanted visitors. Moreover, the typical tick rarely bites people, but when it does, it can cause a lot of trouble.
The Life Stages of Ticks
The typical life cycle of a tick involves four (4) key stages. These life stages can be summarized in phases, namely egg, larva, nymph and finally adult ticks. Why don't we have a brief discussion on each of these life stages to really understand how ticks grow and develop?
This phase of a tick's life cycle begins as soon as adult females lay them. What's really interesting about the whole thing is that these adult females are usually more or less 2 millimeters in size (think about about the size of your everyday pencil tip), but each one can lay thousands of eggs!
And these female adult ticks aren't that picky when it comes to where they lay eggs, too. Besides depositing them in tree barks and the undersides of leaves like the wood tick and the seed tick, it's also not uncommon for an adult female tick to lay eggs in pieces of furniture, the nooks and crannies of cabinets and even the inner linings of carpets.
Larva stage (or when the tick bite begins)
When these eggs hatch, the larva stage kicks in. Perhaps the most noticeable feature that tick larva have is their six feet instead of the eight as seen in nymphs and adult ticks. However, it is important to remember that of all three active stages of a tick's life (excluding the egg phase), it will already need a blood meal as soon as it becomes a larva. A tick consumes blood as soon as its egg hatches.
Tiny larvae feed primarily on blood to survive. They feed slowly, but can have voracious appetites. These ticks wait for larger warm-blooded animals to pass by and unknowingly become hosts for these parasites.
Depending on the type of tick, such as American dog ticks, the brown dog tick and Lone star ticks, tiny larva may have different host animals as they develop. Other tick species also prefer a particular type of host like large mammals.
The nymph stage takes place next when these larvae molt. Nymphs feed more constantly than their larva counterparts and will already have the typical eight (8) feet. Due to their stronger tick bite, nymphs can already transmit disease such as the Heartland virus, the Colorado tick fever virus and even tick-borne relapsing fever.
Some types of ticks such as the Lone star tick, American dog tick, reddish brown deer tick and brown dog tick can even transmit Tularemia or "rabbit fever" during the nymph stage like other infected adult insects such as flies and fleas! Nymphs feed a lot so having the right know-how on tick prevention is definitely an advantage.
Adult ticks can feed on a wide variety of large mammals as well as amphibians, reptiles and even flying animals like birds. Adult females and adult males can already mate and restart the life stages of a tick again. Compared to the larva and nymph, the adult tick feeds the most (and the most prolific when it comes to transmitting disease).
A tick tends to reach adulthood in three (3) years. This is the case for most types like the reddish brown blacklegged tick, American dog tick, Lone star tick, as well as the wood tick that is commonly found in shrubs, bushes and wooded areas.
Some Common Tick Species (Not Just Brown Dog Tick) You Might Encounter
Apart from the very widely known brown dog tick, there are actually a number of other kinds of ticks that you and your pet might stumble across at some point. And while we're on the subject, there are even soft ticks and hard ticks! Soft ticks prefer gorging on blood like their hard counterparts, too.
Besides their general physical attributes, most ticks also share a rather interesting non-preference to bite humans and spreading diseases like Borrelia burgdorferi, Powassan virus disease, the Heartland virus as well as the Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
The most common tick varieties that you can possibly come across in and around North America include the Lone Star tick, the deer tick, the blacklegged tick, American dog ticks aka the "kennel tick," as well as the wood tick.
If you're wondering why the Lone Star tick is named as such, its moniker comes from the white spot or "star" that is commonly found on an adult female of the species. While most of these parasites have a brown or reddish brown coloration like the one seen in the brown dog tick, they generally take on a greyish hue when engorged with blood after feeding on host animals.
When are Ticks Really Active?
Most types of ticks are very much active in both the spring and summer. An adult female usually lays eggs when the weather is warmer. Despite their being microscopic (about the size of a sesame seed), a typical adult female tick can lay a thousand or more eggs t one time.
However, it is crucial to take note that ticks can still affect your pet regardless of the season. An American dog tick or blacklegged tick can still wreak havoc during the colder months. It just isn't as active compared to the warmer seasons.
Now we've got that covered, here are the three (3) spooky facts about ticks that I was telling you about earlier...
#1 – They are Little Blood-Sucking "Spiders."
Sure a tick isn't really a spider, but this parasite can be considered as a distant cousin to web-spinners from a genetic point of view. These parasites are part of the arachnid class, which makes them related to spiders, mites and scorpions. So the next time you see an American dog tick or a blacklegged tick, you can think of it as seeing something out of a spider's family tree.
A hardy little critter
About 900 species of ticks exist around the world and 44 of them have been reported to be human parasites in the United States. They can be found in tropical regions, as well as in boreal forests, prairies and even far north in the tundra. And I can confirm that, as I drove across Canada last summer and saw ticks in every single province I camped in.
As the climate is changing and getting warmer, ticks are most likely to become a real problem! Most common ticks in North America are active when the temperature is above 4 degrees Celsius. We can separate them in two types, namely the soft ticks and the hard ticks. The latter come with hard shields that make them quite difficult to crush!
A tick's "ambush" technique
Ticks like the blacklegged tick don’t jump or fly and they don't bite humans compared to other parasites. Most hard or soft ticks tend to wait at the top of tall grass with their “arms” extended, ready to grasp whatever or whoever will walk close by. They are extremely sensitive to odors, body heat and vibrations, which makes this "ambush" technique quite effective.
After a tick has made its way to your pet’s skin, they will either get ready to eat right away or wander in the fur for a few hours to find the perfect spot. Once they are satisfied with their location, they will cut the skin open and insert their harpoon-like hypostome, which they use as an anchor to make sure to stay on their host for days!
Then, once they created that easy access to your furry friend’s blood, they secrete a substance that prevents his blood from clotting and start eating. Once unfed hard ticks or soft ticks are done feeding, their weight can be up to 600 times what it was initially. Isn't that crazy?
Feeding frequency and limit
If you notice a big fat tick on your pet, it means that it was feeding for a while already. Most hard ticks will need three daily meals in their life, on different hosts, in order to complete their life cycle and lay eggs. As soon as they are satiated, they will detach and fall back onto the ground.
Additionally, there is a limit to how much blood a tick can consume. However, we see animals in the wild with hundreds of them on their body! Immunosuppressed animals, babies, or animals with slower mobility are more likely to get infested by a lot of ticks and can be prone to anemia, due to loss of blood.
As a veterinary technician, I personally treated a baby skunk once, with 7 blacklegged ticks attached all around one single eye! There are even instances where different types of these parasites can converge on a single host. For example, Lone Star ticks can also be present in a host contaminated with blacklegged ticks, with an American dog tick probably hanging out somewhere near, too.
#2 - They Can Paralyze Your Pet
As a Canadian, I used to think our land was free of dangerous bugs. Yes, we have grizzlies, cougars, wolves and the like, but nothing deadly that can sneak up in your sleeping bag. But I was wrong. Very wrong!
Some ticks found in North America, particularly hard ticks belonging to the group Dermacentor, can cause paralysis. Cases of paralysis caused by these parasites are rare in humans, but can be widespread when animals are concerned in some areas. Blacklegged ticks are also seen to cause paralysis in a wide variety of animals.
Symptoms of this tick-borne paralysis usually start by numbness, tingling in the facial area, weakness and fatigue. This can eventually progress to complete paralysis in the span of a few hours or a couple of days. Moreover, it is crucial to take note that paralysis caused by a blacklegged tick or some other tick variety is irreversible.
Complications can be triggered if the paralysis moves to the respiratory muscles. What's really alarming is that, although rare, death can occur in these cases. This is the reason why you should always remove a tick as soon as you see one. The longer a blacklegged tick or American dog tick attaches to your pet, the higher the chances of paralysis setting in.
#3 - They Spread a Lot of Disease
Did you know that a tick is considered as the most capable vector of pathogens for animals, either wild or domestic? They can transmit microbes via their saliva, feces or by regurgitation. This is why it is important to never crush a tick that is still attached to your pet's skin.
Microbes that are present in a tick's body can be "regurgitated" or pushed back inside the host's blood when force is applied. And don’t forget to wear gloves if you have to detach one, as you don’t want to put yourself at risk!
Let's start with Lyme disease, which is perhaps the most popular health problem set off by a tick...
Lyme disease is caused by the transmission of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi.It is transmitted in North America by two species of blacklegged ticks. Unfortunately for us, they don’t have a favorite host and will feed on humans if they have to. The blacklegged tick has to remain attached to the host for 36 to 48 hours before infection sets in.
Generally, the first signs of an infection will be a target-like skin lesion where the blacklegged tick was anchored. Animals, just like humans, can experience fever as well as experience lameness and general discomfort during the early stages of this disease. If not dealt with properly, it will already affect the nervous system.
Aside from Lyme disease, a tick can also make you susceptible to several other bacteria, viruses and parasites. You see, a deer tick, blacklegged tick or Lone Star tick will not hesitate to feed on birds and mice. And if these little animals are harboring disease, such as the Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a tick will most likely pass it on your pet along the way.
A Final Word
You probably have concluded by now that ticks are concerning and should be taken seriously. Regardless of the species, whether it's brown dog ticks, blacklegged ticks or Lone Star ticks, knowing how to properly deal with them is crucial for every pet parent.
And while we're on the subject, I'd also like to share our TICKS & FLEAS natural product. It is designed to help maintain your pet's skin health, while alleviating the effects of flea and tick bites. This premium natural product also works incredibly well to desensitize your pet to reactions caused by these bites.
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