Tick season is here in North Carolina, and with COVID-19 keeping many from work and social visits, going outside suddenly seems like a great idea, especially in our beautiful N.C. spring weather. However, ticks also enjoy our weather and are out about, ready to attach themselves to your pet and have themselves a nice meal. Thankfully, ticks, while widespread throughout the world, can be easily prevented, protecting your pet from disease.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks are ectoparasites, which are organisms that live on the outside of an animal and, in this case, feed on blood. They are fairly common and exist everywhere in the world. Ticks are classified as Arachnida, which is the same class that includes spiders and mites. Fossil records show that ticks have been around for at least 90 million years and are still going strong. There are over 800 species of ticks worldwide, with the two most common diseases transmitters being the hard and soft ticks.
Ticks in the Ixodidae family have a hard outer covering called a scutum. The hard-bodied ticks are the most common pests that prey on your pets. Soft-bodied ticks are from the Argasidae family and do not have an outer scutum. Soft-bodied ticks are more common in the Southwest and can normally be found around the ears of pets where the skin is thinner.
Most hard ticks go through four stages of life, requiring three different hosts to complete their development. The stages are egg, larvae (or seed tick), nymph, and adult. The adult female will breed on the host animal and then drop to the ground to lay eggs, usually in a protected area in the spring. Eggs hatch as temperature and moisture levels rise. A female lays several thousand eggs at a time, which will hatch into the larvae, or seed tick, stage. Larvae are small, about 1/32 of an inch, and have six legs.
Hard ticks’ first blood meal preference is usually a rodent or bird. They can’t jump and must find other ways to attach to their host. They use blades of grass and other vegetation to elevate themselves to the height where they can reach out and grasp onto passing animals such as birds or rodents. According to PetMD, “proximate biochemical signals, such as rising carbon dioxide levels emitted by a warm-blooded mammal, alert ticks to passing hosts. This procedure is called ‘questing’, and ticks use these behaviors to find their first host for an initial blood meal.”
After the larvae feed for several days on the initial host, it will drop to the ground again and molt (shed its outer skin) and become an eight-legged nymph about 1/16 – 1/18 inch. The nymph will then wait for a second host to attach to and engorge on blood. The nymphs prefer slightly larger animals to feed on such as a raccoon or possum. After feeding and engorgement, the nymph will fall to the ground and molt for the last time, becoming an adult. Adult ticks range from 3/16 – ¼ inch and have eight legs. The adult ticks will find a third, even larger host, such as a dog or deer, where they will feed and then breed.
Depending on the species of tick, the entire life cycle can take anywhere from two months to years to complete. Ticks are most active spring through fall. Nymphs will be inactive during the winter but will begin feeding again in the spring. Males die after breeding, but females that mate in the fall will survive through winter and lay their eggs in the spring.
Soft ticks differ from hard ticks in that they develop through several nymph stages. They slowly increase in size until a final molt result in the adult. Their life cycles are much longer than hard ticks, living for several years. They have even been known to be able to survive for long periods of time without a meal from a host.
Adult ticks are the easiest to identify, and male and female ticks of the same species can look different. Nymphal and larval ticks are tiny and may be hard to identify.
Types of Ticks that can be found in N.C.
Ticks can be found all around the world, just like the diseases they carry and can transfer to your pets. However, not all ticks are common in every part of the world. Below is a list of ticks that can be found in North Carolina.
- American Dog Tick: The American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabillis) is found east of the Rocky Mountains, however, there are a few areas that they can be found on the Pacific Coast. These ticks are also called wood ticks. The females are most likely to bite, especially during the spring and summer months. American Dog ticks transmit tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
- Blacklegged Tick: The Blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), also known as the deer tick, is common throughout the eastern United States. The adults are a reddish-brown color. These ticks transmit several different types of bacteria in their bites including Borrelia burgdorferi and B. mayonii (which cause Lyme disease), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (anaplasmosis), miyamotoi disease (a form of relapsing fever), Ehrlichia muris eauclairensis (ehrlichiosis), Babesia microti (babesiosis), and Powassan virus (Powassan virus disease). Blacklegged ticks are very hardy and are active in the spring, summer, and fall, however, they will still hunt for food in the winter if temperatures are above freezing.
- Brown Dog Tick: The Brown Dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), also called the Kennel tick, is found worldwide. Dogs are the primary host for the brown dog tick but it may bite other mammals. It’s unique among ticks because it survives well indoors. The adult tick usually attaches around the ears or between a dog’s toes. It transmits Rocky Mountain Spotted fever and other diseases such as ehrlichiosis.
- Gulf Coast Tick: The Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum) is found on the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. This tick transmits Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis which is a form of spotted fever. The Gulf Coast tick feeds on all types of mammals from birds and small rodents, to deer and other wildlife.
- Lone Star Tick: Widely found in the southeastern and eastern United States, Lone Star ticks are very aggressive and will bite. The saliva can irritate and can cause redness and discomfort, however, that does not necessarily indicate an infection. Female Lone Star ticks have a dot, or “lone star” on their backs. These ticks are known to transmit Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii (which cause ehrlichiosis), Heartland virus, tularemia, and STARI.
Ticks and Your Pet
Ticks attach to your dog or cat by grabbing on to their fur as they walk by. They insert their mouthparts into your pet’s skin to get their blood meal. Some ticks produce a sticky, glue-like substance that helps them remain attached to your pet. They prefer to attach close to the head, neck, ears, and feet, but they can be found anywhere on your pet’s body.
Ticks can attach themselves to any pet at any time, even if they are mainly an indoor pet. Because ticks can hitch a ride on clothing, it can be easy for them to get into the house and find your pet. However, the easiest way for ticks to attach to your pet, especially your dog, is when you take him or her for a walk, go for a hike, or do any outdoor activity. While ticks themselves only cause mild irritation, they carry diseases that can pose a serious threat to pets and humans.
Hard ticks transfer disease near the end of the meal as the tick becomes full of blood. It may take hours before it transmits pathogens that cause disease. Soft ticks, however, usually feed for less than an hour and disease transmission occurs within minutes. The bite of some soft ticks can be intensely painful.
While rare, some ticks can consume so much blood from your pet that they can cause a deficiency called anemia. Certain female ticks may also release a toxin while feeding that can cause paralysis in your pet, though this is rare. The most important thing to remember is that ticks carry disease, and these diseases can be fatal to your pet if left untreated. Dogs are particularly susceptible to tick bites and tickborne diseases.
Lyme Disease is one of the diseases spread by ticks and can affect both pets and humans, especially dogs. It’s caused by a bacterial infection, and it is primarily carried by the Deer tick. Lyme disease can cause arthritis and swelling of your dog’s joints, resulting in painful lameness. Other symptoms include depression, swelling of the lymph nodes, loss of appetite, fever, and kidney failure. Lyme disease is usually treated with antibiotics, and with prompt and proper treatment, your pet should start to improve within 48 hours.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can cause fever and lameness as well as the loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes, and joint swelling and pain. It can be treated with antibiotics.
Dogs are more susceptible to tickborne illness than cats, but cats can get a serious infection called Cytauxzoonosis. Cytauxzoonosis is a lethal infection caused by tick bites. It is most common in the south and is usually carried by bobcats. If a tick bites a bobcat and then your pet, it will transfer the disease to your pet. Cytauxzoonosis is fatal to domestic cats. Signs of the disease include high fever, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, jaundice, coma, and death. The infection progresses rapidly, and there is no known cure, though there are several studies that have proved successful in managing certain strains of the disease.
Tularemia is a disease that affects both animals and people. Though rare in dogs and cats, rabbits, hares, and rodents are susceptible. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, signs of sepsis, and possibly death. Dogs and cats can contract tularemia if they come in contact with an infected animal, while rabbits, hares, and rodents get tularemia from tick bites.
Tick bites on dogs can be difficult to detect, and signs of tickborne disease may not appear for 7 – 21 days after a bite. Watch your dog closely for changes in behavior and appetite if you suspect that your pet has been bitten. Prompt treatment of these diseases are a must as they can have serious consequences. If you are concerned, and/or if your pet is experiencing any of the above symptoms, call your veterinarian right away. Our vets at Lazy 5 are here for you if you have any concerns about your pet. Call us at (704) 636-1100 and we can help!
Preventing Ticks and Tickborne Diseases in Your Pet
Vaccines are not available for most tickborne disease and they don’t stop your pet from bringing ticks into your home. However, you can help prevent your pet from getting ticks and contracting these diseases.
The best way to prevent ticks from attaching to your pet is to use regular tick control products. Many flea medications also prevent ticks. Check the flea medication you are giving your pet to see if it also prevents ticks. If you have questions, call your veterinarian.
There are several different tick preventatives, the most common being a spot-on treatment. Spot-on treatments can be over the counter or prescribed by your veterinarian. These can be effective at keeping both fleas and ticks away for up to a month. Reapplying topical treatments monthly is a huge part of keeping these pests away from your pet, but if you follow a routine, you can keep your pet safe and healthy from fleas and ticks. Your pet could also take a monthly pill to kill fleas and ticks. It works the same as the spot-on treatment, but it’s in pill form. Spot-on treatments and monthly pills are safe for your pet and easy to use.
Shampoos and tick dips are other methods for killing ticks. Tick shampoo contains medicated ingredients that will kill ticks on contact. Bathing your dog in this shampoo is an inexpensive, although labor-intensive, method of protecting your dog from ticks. You will have to repeat the bath every two weeks because the medication in the shampoo does not last as long as the oral medication and spot-on treatment. Be careful though because some shampoos can irritate your dog’s skin.
Tick dips contain concentrated medicine that needs to be mixed with water to dilute it and then applied to your pet’s fur with a sponge or poured over their back. This treatment is not meant to be rinsed off after application. The chemicals used in dips are very strong, so read the label before use. Do not use a dip on any pets under four months old, or for pregnant or nursing pets. If you have a young pet, or your pet is pregnant or nursing, consult your veterinarian about tick removal options that are safe.
Tick collars are collars that repel ticks but are only useful if you are protecting your pet’s neck and head from ticks. In order for the collar to work, it must make contact with your pet’s skin. When placing the collar make sure you can get two fingers underneath the collar when it is around your pet’s neck. Cut off any excess length of the collar to keep your pet from chewing on. Monitor your pet for excessive scratching, which may be a sign of an allergic reaction. Do not let children manage the collar and wash your hands with soap and water after coming in contact with the collar.
To further reduce the risk of bringing in ticks, check your dog for ticks daily, especially after spending time outdoors. If you find a tick, remove it right away. Do not just yank the tick off of your pet! There is a proper way to remove ticks to help prevent disease and keep your dog safe. Continue reading for these procedures, and/or ask your veterinarian for a demonstration on the proper way to remove ticks.
Check your pet for ticks in and around the ears, around the tail, between the back legs, around the eyelids, under the collar, under the front legs, and between the toes. Most ticks are visible to the naked eye, so you should be able to spot them if you check. Before they bite, a tick maybe the size of a pinhead, and therefore more difficult to see. If you run your hands carefully over your pet after he or she comes in from being outside, you should be able to feel the small bumps.
You can also help prevent ticks by making your yard inhospitable. Mow your lawn regularly and remove tall weeds. Rake up your leaves, and trim your bushes. Ticks love warm, grassy areas and will thrive in unruly sections of your yard. Remember ticks use tall weeds and grass to climb up and cling to your pet, so if these vantage points are removed, they will be less likely to stick around your yard. This will also make your home less hospitable to fleas.
If you are still concerned about fleas and ticks in your yard, there are household and yard sprays and granular treatments that are available. Be careful when using these products as they can be harmful to animals, humans, and the environment. If you have a severe problem with these parasites or are concerned about handling these chemicals, call a professional exterminator. He/she will advise you on the right treatment for your yard and lifestyle.
Keep a lid on your garbage can outside. This will discourage rodents from coming into your yard that may have ticks.
The brown dog tick is unique because it lives well indoors. It can live and reproduce inside your home. Its favorite hiding spots are cracks, curtains, under rugs and furniture, and behind radiators. Double-check these areas in your house if you have a pet that likes to go in and out. Vacuum your carpets with a rotary brush or beater bar and mop hardwood floors with detergent weekly. Wash your pet’s bedding regularly. Not only will this keep your pet comfy, but it will also help prevent fleas and ticks in your home.
Talk to your veterinarian to see what tick prevention product is best for your pet. If you are interested in tick prevention for your pet, call and schedule an appointment today at Lazy 5 Vets! We will put together a plan that is best for your pet and their lifestyle.
Safely Removing a Tick from Your Pet
After you and your dog come inside from a nice walk or from playing her favorite game of fetch, you give her a quick check and notice a tick. Don’t panic! There’s a safe way to remove the tick and help your pet. Make sure to take care when removing it. Any contact with the tick’s blood can potentially transmit the infection to your pet or even to you. It’s important for the tick to be promptly removed, but stay calm and don’t rush. Follow the steps below to remove a tick from your pet.
Step 1: Prepare
- Put on latex or rubber gloves so you don’t have direct contact with the tick or your pet’s bite area.
- Prepare a screw-top jar containing rubbing alcohol to put the tick in after removal. Throwing the tick away or flushing it down the toilet will not kill, and if you place it in the jar, you will have the tick if the vet needs it for testing.
- If possible, enlist a partner to help distract and soothe your pet and help you keep her still during the removal.
Step 2: Remove
- Using a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the animal’s skin as possible.
- Pull straight up with steady, even pressure, and place the tick in your jar.
- Do not twist or jerk the tick. This may leave the mouth-parts embedded in your pet or cause the tick to regurgitate infective fluids.
- Do not squeeze or crush the body of the tick because its fluids may be contaminated with infective organisms.
Step 3: Disinfect and Monitor
- Disinfect the bite area.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. Even though you were wearing gloves, it’s still important to wash your hands just in case.
- Sterilize your tweezers with alcohol or by carefully running them over a flame.
- Monitor the bite area for redness and inflammation and monitor your pet for any changes in behavior. Since it can take 7 – 21 days for signs of tickborne disease to show, make sure you are vigilant.
- If you notice any redness or inflammation at the bite area or any changes in your pet’s behavior, such as loss of appetite, fever, or lameness, bring your pet – and your jarred tick – to your veterinarian for evaluation.
The jarred tick, while it seems odd, can be quite helpful for your veterinarian. He/she may be able to determine the type of tick and the disease it spread just by having the tick for testing. This could save your pet valuable time in getting treatment.
Many times, safely removing the tick quickly after exposure will prevent tickborne disease, and while removal may be uncomfortable for your pet, you cannot leave the tick on your pet to feed.
Prevention is Key
Ticks are nasty pests that latch on to your pet and feed from their blood. They can cause irritation and pass on diseases that can be fatal. Ticks also pose a threat to humans, as humans can contract tickborne diseases.
As scary as all of this sounds, there’s an easy and affordable way to prevent ticks from hurting your pet. Preventatives, such as spot-on treatments and oral medication, is the most effective way to keep ticks away from you, your pet, and your home.
Check your pet after long walks outside and after you go hiking. If you find a tick, safely and promptly remove it. Keep the tick in a well-sealed jar in case your pet shows symptoms of infection.
If you enjoyed this blog and want to learn more, be sure to check out our Flea Blog here.