Ticks are most prevalent in spring and fall. Pets meet up with them when they venture into tall grass and woodlands. Ticks wait on the tips of grass for a host dog, cat, person or other mammal to pass by. The tick has a sensory organ that enables it to detect the presence of a potential host. Since they cannot fly or leap onto the host, they do "questing" when they sense a host is near. While holding on to the blade of grass with their back pairs of legs, they wave their front legs out into the air. When a potential host brushes by, they latch onto their body and then eventually burrow their head beneath the skin to gorge on blood. The visual on this is enough to be fodder for nightmares, especially if you imagine a tick 100 times actual size.
The three varieties of tick that are of most concern to pets and people are the deer tick, the brown dog tick and the American dog tick. Their life cycle takes over two years and they may "dine" on as many as three different hosts. The first might be a lizard or rat progressing on up to larger mammals like deer. Each host can transmit diseases to the tick that it then passes on. This is the real concern about tick bites. Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tick paralysis are common tick born diseases.
Lyme disease can afflict canines, felines and humans. Symptoms are fever, lameness, swollen lymph nodes and joints, depressed appetite and fatigue. Some have few signs of the illness. Antibiotics are the treatment but some cases can persist. It takes about 48 hours of tick attachment in order to transmit the bacteria to the animal's bloodstream. If the tick is removed before this, the disease usually is not passed on.
Dogs, and less often cats, get Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). Signs of RMSF may include fever, reduced appetite, depression, pain in the joints, lameness, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some may develop serious illness. The tick must be attached to the pet for at least five hours in order for transmission of the organism to occur. Oral antibiotics are given for about two weeks to treat the infection.
Ehrlichiosis in dogs comes from ticks. Symptoms include depression, reduced appetite, fever, stiff and painful joints, and bruising. Signs appear less than a month after a tick bite and last for about four weeks. Antibiotics are given to completely eradicate the organism. In areas of the country that are endemic to this disease, low doses of antibiotics may be recommended during tick season.
Preventing tick bites is a worthy goal in order to protect them and yourself from these illnesses. The first line of attack could be one of the "spot-on" products available. These are applied to the pet's skin between the shoulder blades on a monthly basis. Most are very effective in controlling both ticks and fleas. Since some products are more effective and less toxic, I strongly recommend that you get your vet's advice but also do your own research to learn all about these chemicals. Be sure to use the appropriate dose for your pet's weight. Note that some dog products can be very harmful to cats. In addition, when using cat products, apply it higher on their body so that there is no chance of them licking it. If you want to try using herbal and "natural" remedies, discuss it with your vet, use caution and do careful research. A rule of thumb is to use diluted amounts. Garlic is not a good idea. Pennyroyal oil can be toxic.
Page 2 of 2 - It is important to keep pets out of "tick habitats," such as heavily wooded areas or tall grass. Create tick-free zones in your yard by keeping grass mown short and bushes cut back. Ticks like moist areas, so remove leaf litter from around your house. You may need to treat your backyard with a pesticide to reduce the number of ticks.
Finally, make a habit of performing a "tick check" on your pet (and yourself) at least once a day, especially if they have had access to wooded or grassy areas. If you find a tick, grasp it with a pair of tweezers as close down to the mouthparts as you can reach. Exert a gentle, steady pressure until it lets go. Don't use lighter fluid, matches, or other products…they can do more harm.