Ticks: as a pet owner, you probably have chills already from reading that simple word. They are creepy little creatures, I give you that. There are different ways to get rid of them, but why bother? You know you should be concerned about them, but do you really know why?
I will give you 3 good reasons to be worried about ticks. Careful, it might give you the heebie-jeebies! Read this.
#1 – THEY ARE LITTLE BLOOD-SUCKING SPIDERS
Technically, ticks are genetically closer to spiders than mosquitos. They are part of the arachnid class, which make them close cousin with spiders, mites and scorpions. So think about it, tiny spiders crawling into your dog’s fur. That idea alone makes me want to take action to prevent that. But wait, there’s more!
About 900 species of ticks exist around the world and 44 of them have been reported to be human parasites in United States. They can be found in tropical regions, as well as in boreal forest, 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 temperature is above 4 degrees Celsius.
We can separate them in two types; soft ticks and hard ticks. Those very hard shielded ticks are the most common. Unfortunately for us, this protection makes them very hard to crush!
Ticks don’t jump or fly, which make them a bit friendlier. Most of them, hard ticks especially, will simply wait at the top of a tall grass, with their “arms” extended, ready to grasp whatever or whoever will walk close by. They are sensitive to odours, body heat and vibrations.
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 with literally cut the skin open and insert their hypostome. That looks just like a harpoon, 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 they are done feeding, their weight can be up to 600 times what it was initially, isn’t it crazy? Their body length is only between 1 and 5 mm unfed, so if you notice a big juicy tick on your pet, it means that it was feeding for a while already. Most hard ticks will need three 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.
There is a limit to how much blood a tick can eat. However, we see animals in the wild with hundreds of them on their body! Immunosuppressed animal, babies, or slower animals are more likely to get infested by a lot of ticks, therefore they can be victim of anemia, following an important loss of blood. As a veterinary technician, I personally treated a baby skunk once, with 7 ticks attached all around one single eye!
You know now ticks are hard-shielded tiny vampire spiders. That fact only makes them fascinating for most biologists. Personally, what they are and how they operate send chills down my spine, and unluckily, there is more to their spookiness. Scroll down.
#2 - THEY GIVE PARALYSIS
As a Canadian, I used to think our land was free of dangerous bugs. Yes we have grizzlies, cougars, wolves, etc., but nothing deadly that can sneak up in your sleeping bag. But I was wrong.
Some ticks found in North America, hard ticks of the group Dermacentor, can cause paralysis. Don’t worry too much though, cases are rare in humans, although have been reported in animals. Symptoms will starts by numbness, tingling in the face, weakness and fatigue and after several hours, or even days, it can then progress to a complete paralysis.
Complications can occur if the paralysis moves to the respiratory muscles. Death can occur in those very rare cases, if the tick is not removed rapidly. The tick has to be attached for 5 to 7 days before symptoms occur. Fortunately, the paralysis can be reversed as soon as the tick is removed.
The risk of paralysis is a good enough reason for me to make sure my dog doesn’t get a tick, but I will explain you one last thing. For me, this following point is the most important to take into consideration. Read carefully.
#3 - THEY SPREAD DISEASES
Ticks literally spit life-threating disease into their host. I know, gross. They are the most important 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 the skin; it will cause regurgitation into the host’s blood and will accelerate or cause the transmission of a pathogen. And don’t forget to wear gloves if you have to detach one, as you don’t want to put yourself at risk!
Most of you probably know already about Lyme disease. Let’s start with that one.
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 tick has to remain attached for 36 to 48 hours before the risk of infection with the bacteria becomes important.
Generally, the first signs of an infection will be a target-like skin lesion where the tick was anchored. Animal, just like humans, can have fever and experience lameness and general discomfort in the early stage of the disease. Then, it can progress and affect the nervous system, which can have a major impact on quality of life.
Lyme is not the only thing ticks can transmit to your beloved pets: several other bacteria, viruses and parasites can also be given to your animal via a tick. I will spare you the details, but think about all the diseases that can affects wild mice or birds. Ticks feed on these little guys before feeding on our pets, and believe me; they don’t wash their hands after their meal! This means everything their first host carries as a pathogen can be transmitted to their second victim.
Sad-ending stories are not that common, I reassure you. Even then, ticks are concerning and should be taken seriously.
Now that you know more about WHAT ticks are, I suggest that you go peak on this page to get tips on HOW to deal with them. They are creepy indeed, but there is a LOT you can do to help your pet be safe around them!
Wish you a tick-free summer!