Ticks are gross. We can all agree on that, right?
But ticks gotta live, too, and in springtime, live they do.
Warm, moist air is a (literal) breeding ground for ticks; spring creates the perfect climate. Whether you’re getting outside every weekend for hikes with your dog or your feline companion is using her cat door more and more now that it’s nice outside, here’s what you need to know about ticks.
What Exactly is a Tick, Again?
Ticks are ectoparasites meaning they live outside the body. They’re actually arachnids (like spiders!) and they feed themselves solely on the blood of other animals, both mammalian and reptile. They live almost everywhere in the world – although they’re more common in warm, humid climates – and there are nearly 1,000 species. If you’ve ever been in the woods, walked through tall grass, or played in a park in the sun, you’ve probably been around ticks.
What’s the Big Deal?
Well, ticks don’t just steal blood, they carry disease. More specifically, they carry disease-causing microbes that can result in a litany of awful health issues such as Lyme disease, typhus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Q fever, and more than a dozen other you-don’t-want-them diseases. Unfortunately, almost all tick-borne diseases can affect dogs and cats as readily as they can humans.
I Already Knew This
Okay, okay! Everyone knows about ticks, but here are a few useful pieces of intel you probably didn’t realize:
- Ticks crawl up…they don’t drop from trees or jump or fly. If there’s one your dog’s head, it probably crawled there from his paw.
- Ticks don’t die in winter, they just become ‘de-active.’ The first thaw of spring is usually when they reactivate themselves.
- All species of ticks come in all sizes. If you find a tick, don’t make any assumptions about it based on size alone.
- It usually takes around 24-hours for a disease-carrying tick to actually infect its host with its microbes, so finding and removing them fast is key.
So How Do I Find and Prevent Ticks on My Pet?
Great question. Prevention is best, obviously, which means talking to your vet about the most effective tick prevention medications available. Prescription tick prevention meds are the best way to keep your pet tick-free, and they come in both pill form and liquid versions. It’s also smart to keep your pet out of wooded areas, tall grass, overgrown weeds, etc. Sometimes this isn’t possible, though, and even when you try, ticks can still sneak up on you. That’s why it’s important to know what to look for.
You should check your pet for ticks regularly throughout the year, and especially immediately after you’ve been in a tick-prone area. Checking is simple – just use your fingers to run through your pet’s fur thoroughly, pressing down enough to feel any small bumps. Don’t forget to look in between toes and under the tail, too! Ticks will be attached firmly and anywhere between poppy seed-sized and the size of a raisin.
EW! I Found a Tick! Now What!?
First, don’t panic. The worst thing you can do is just rip it off. Most ticks can be removed with some blunt household tweezers: Put on gloves, then grasp the tick with the tweezers as close to your pet’s skin as possible. Pull firmly and straight, doing your best not to leave any part of the tick behind. Once removed, store the tick in some rubbing alcohol (in case your vet needs to test it later) and clean your pet’s bite with antiseptic. Watch your pet closely over the next couple of days for odd behavior or signs of illness that could indicate he needs to see the vet.
Ticks aren’t entirely preventable, but you can get close. Talk to your vet about which flea and tick prevention medications are right for your dog or cat, and do it soon. Just a one-week lapse in your pet’s medication could leave him susceptible to disease-carrying pests!