Tick prevention is a huge concern for a lot of pet owners everywhere, and with good reason! Ticks, like their counterpart the flea, are a very common, and dangerous, external parasite affecting our dogs and cats, and they’re more difficult to get rid of than most of us realize. This article is designed to educate pet parents about ticks and methods of controlling these blood-sucking insects. We’ll discuss their life cycle and explain exactly what concerned dog and cat owners need to know when it comes to tick prevention.
Diseases Caused by Tick Bites
It goes without saying that ticks are disgusting, but more importantly, they’re also dangerous. While they don’t usually infest our homes like fleas can, ticks tend to create a different problem because they transmit so many diseases. The most recognizable one for most of us is Lyme Disease, but there are a number of others. These include:
- Canine Ehrlichiosis
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Colorado Tick Fever
All tick-born diseases are transmitted when an infected tick bites our pet, and some of these illnesses can affect us humans. Generally, side effects of tick-born illnesses include fever, appetite loss, anemia, and neurologic changes. Sometimes, our pets deal with side effects for years after a tick bite. In other cases, they can experience paralysis or even death if symptoms aren’t caught and treated in time.
Understanding the tick life cycle
The best way to protect your dog or cat from ticks is to learn as much about them as possible. Unlike the flea, ticks have a much longer life cycle, which prevents them from infesting our homes in quite the same way. The tick life cycle consists of four stages, egg, larval, nymph, and finally the adult stage. When a tick hatches from an egg and enters the larval stage, it will need a blood meal in order to mature. However, it’s important to remember that some species of larvae can live for months without maturing or finding a host. All tick larvae are born with six legs.
After finding its first host, the larva will usually feed from it for two to three days before dropping back down to the ground. Once on the ground again, the larva matures and eventually sheds its outer shell. This process, called molting, makes it possible for the larva to enter the nymph stage. Some species may require a number of hosts and several molts in order to mature and enter the nymph phase.
A nymph looks like a miniature adult and now has eight legs rather than six. Again, a nymph must find a host in order to mature. The length of time a nymph feeds varies depending on the species. After feeding, some nymphs become dormant in colder months, some will drop back to the ground for one final molt, and others will complete the life cycle using the same host.
After the final molt, the nymph emerges as a mature adult and requires another blood meal in order to reproduce. Once the adult tick reproduces, it has completed the life cycle. Males always die after one mating, while females may lay several batches of eggs before also dying.
These arachnids can actually live much longer than most of us realize. It all depends on the species of tick and the length of its life cycle. Some species can remain dormant for months at a time while going through each stage of the life cycle. Generally speaking, a tick’s life span is between two and three years.
Identifying ticks is key to control and prevention. There are anywhere between eight and nine hundred species worldwide, and around ninety in the United States specifically. While identifying an individual species of tick is pretty much impossible without expert knowledge, it’s certainly possible to spot a tick on a general level. Here are some things to look for.
Most tick larvae are the size of a grain of sand. Nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed or sesame seed, and adults are the size of an apple seed or pencil eraser. They never have wings and tend to be flat and oblong-shaped until they have gotten the chance to feed. Nymphs and adults have eight legs, while larvae only have six. Ticks can be grayish-white, black, brown, reddish-brown, or yellow in color. They are able to bite during all their active life stages, including larval, nymph, and adult.
Ticks prefer to live in areas that are wooded, brushy, or that have tall grass. It’s important to examine your pet and yourself frequently after spending time in these areas. Additionally, the peak season in the United States runs from April through July, although ticks can be active during the winter months as well.
Using a high-quality tick preventative is the best way to deal with these disgusting pests! These products help keep the ticks away from your pet to begin with. If they do land on him, the medication will kill them quickly, so your pet doesn’t get bitten. Here are some key things to know about tick preventatives.
- They come in many forms, including topical, flea collars, flea sprays, and pills.
- Make sure the product you choose kills ticks on contact. These products are most efficient when it comes to killing parasites.
- If you have a dog, use a product specifically designed for If you have a cat, use prevention specific to cats
- Purchase a product designed for your pet’s size and weight. For example, if you have a large dog, purchase a tick preventative for large dogs within their weight parameters. –
- No matter which product you choose, follow the directions carefully.
If you’re not sure which type of tick prevention to try for your dog or cat, here are a few things to keep in mind. Topical products, which come in little tubes that you squeeze on your pet’s back, are the most commonly used. They need to be applied each month. Flea collars are probably the most convenient. They last for several months at a time, which makes life easier for you, but the collars can come off, which could be a problem if not noticed right away. Even though we call them flea collars, these products will also kill ticks.
Sprays need to be applied weekly but work well in conjunction with a topical product or collar. Pills can sometimes be easier to give your pet, but they don’t kill on contact. That means ticks won’t die unless they actually bite your pet. If you’re a pet parent that has concerns about chemicals, there are natural preventatives available for dogs and cats. We strongly recommend using a flea and tick preventative year-round, even if you live somewhere with a dry climate or cold winter. Remember, ticks can bite, even in the winter months. This is especially true if you travel with your pet, board him, or take him to dog parks.
How to Safely Remove Ticks
If you notice a tick on your pet, don’t just grab the thing and pull it off. If you do, you may accidentally leave part of the tick on your dog or cat. The Humane Society of the United States recommends removing ticks with these four easy steps.
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk. This can cause the mouth parts to get lodged in your pet’s skin.
- After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with either rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or hot, soapy water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, sealing it in a plastic bag or plastic container, wrapping it in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Remember never to crush a tick with your fingers!
If possible, save the tick that bit your pet and show it to your Veterinarian for species identification. These quick and easy tick removal steps work just as well on humans, according to the CDC.
Treating Tick Infestations
Prevention is incredibly important, but what if your pet already has fleas? Not to worry, we’re here to help! First of all, remember that fleas are patient and creative when it comes to finding hosts. If you notice ticks on one pet, we recommend checking and treating them all, just to be safe. Take your pets to your veterinarian for a quick exam. You want to be absolutely sure that all ticks have been removed. Your vet should also be aware of any tick bites, so they can check for any illnesses or help you know what symptoms to watch for. Your vet can also prescribe medication to kill residual ticks. This medicine is generally more powerful than topical treatments or collars.
Once you’ve gotten the all clear from your vet, bathe your pet with flea and tick shampoo. This shampoo is especially designed to kill insects without harming your pet’s skin or coat. Use a flea comb to get rid of as many dead ticks and tick eggs as possible. If your dog is wearing a flea collar, take it off during the bath. Flea collars are waterproof, but they may not last as long if they get really wet. As with preventatives, the shampoos are available in both traditional and natural forms.
Treating Your Home
If your pet has ticks, they are probably in your home and yard as well. In order to get rid of them, you’ll need to treat your home and yard along with your pets. Here are the steps you’ll need to take.
- Vacuum everywhere! This includes carpets, hardwood floors, and baseboards. Vacuuming will suck up ticks in all stages of the life cycle. If your vacuum has a bag, dispose of it in an outdoor trash can. If not, empty the canister outside whenever possible.
- Wash everything in hot water. This includes all pet bedding, all human bedding, decorative blankets, etc. If you can wash it, do so. Soap and hot water are great ways to kill ticks! Don’t treat pet or human bedding with any products.
- Treat your home with an insecticide. Whether you call the exterminator or do it yourself, you’ll need to treat your home with some sort of insecticide. Make sure the product you use kills ticks in all stages of the life cycle. Be sure to read the label and follow all directions carefully.
Treat Your Yard
If you have a yard, you’ll want to treat that as well. Be sure to mow the grass before applying treatments. Do your research before you begin this process if you’re planning to do it yourself. Hiring a professional exterminator will likely give you the best results. Give special attention to tall grass, wooded or shady areas, and ground cover. You may need to water your yard in order to activate the insecticides, so be sure to read the instructions carefully!
Hopefully, this article has helped you learn about tick prevention and control. If you have questions about which product to use on your dog or cat, how to deal with an infestation, or anything else, please contact us. We’re here to help your dog or cat live a happy, pest-free life!