Ticks are hardy creatures that carry dangerous diseases and threaten your pet year-round. Our Greenfield Veterinary Clinic team doesn’t want your pet to be a tick victim, so we offer information about ticks, the different species, the diseases they spread, and how you can safeguard your four-legged friend.
What tick species pose a danger to my pet?
The United States is home to numerous tick species, but only a few can transmit diseases. Tick species that pose the most significant threats include:
- Blacklegged ticks — Also known as deer ticks, these parasites are reddish to dark brown in color, and have a dark brown or black dorsal shield behind their head. They can transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis. They are most active in the spring, summer, and fall, but will search for a host at any time in above-freezing temperatures.
- American dog tick — American dog ticks are usually larger than deer ticks and have a brown body with white or gray markings. These ticks are most active in the spring and summer and can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF).
- Lone star tick — Lone star ticks, which are considered extremely aggressive biters, have a round body that is reddish brown with a white spot in the center of their back. They can transmit ehrlichiosis.
What diseases can ticks transmit to my pet?
Diseases transmitted by ticks include:
- Lyme disease — Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, and is transmitted by blacklegged ticks. Signs include lethargy, fever, swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, and shifting limb lameness. In severe cases, Lyme disease can cause kidney damage.
- Anaplasmosis — Anaplasmosis is caused by the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum, and is transmitted by blacklegged ticks. Common signs include fever, lethargy, and joint pain, but in more severe cases, vomiting, diarrhea, and blood clotting issues can occur.
- Ehrlichiosis — Ehrlichiosis is most commonly caused by the bacteria Ehrlichia canis, and is transmitted by blacklegged ticks and the Lone star tick. Initial signs in the acute phase usually include fever, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, and bleeding disorders. If not treated, the disease can progress to a chronic phase, with signs that include anemia, bleeding episodes, lameness, eye inflammation, and neurologic problems.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever — RMSF is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia rickettsii and is transmitted by the American dog tick. Signs include fever, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and facial swelling.
- Babesiosis — Babesiosis is caused by the protozoal parasite Babesia, and is transmitted by the blacklegged tick. Signs include fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, and blood clotting abnormalities.
- Tick paralysis — Female ticks taking a blood meal from your pet can secrete a toxin that causes paralysis. Affected pets typically first lose the use of their hind limbs and then gradually their front limbs. If not treated, the condition can inhibit the pet’s ability to breathe.
Many tick-borne diseases cause similar non-specific signs, but blood tests can help determine the causative pathogen. Most tick-transmitted illnesses respond to antibiotic treatment that typically is administered for at least four weeks. In some cases, signs return when treatment is stopped.
How can I protect my pet from ticks and the diseases they carry?
Recommendations to protect your pet from ticks include:
- Providing year-round tick prevention — Year-round tick prevention is the best way to protect your pet from ticks and the diseases they carry. The products prevent the tick from finishing their blood meal and transmitting disease. Prevention products can be administered orally or as a spot-on treatment, and many also provide protection from other parasites (e.g., heartworms, fleas, intestinal parasites).
- Checking your pet — Check your pet daily for ticks by running your fingers through their fur, searching for lumps and bumps. Ticks can attach anywhere on your pet, but common places include around their eyes, in their ears, under their collar and tail, in their armpits and groin, and between their toes.
- Checking yourself — Ticks can easily hitch a ride on your clothing and access your indoor pet. Check yourself for ticks after being outside.
- Maintaining your yard — Ensure you reduce tick habitats in your yard by keeping your grass cut short, removing leaf litter, and never leaving food outside, which may attract tick-carrying wild animals.
How do I safely remove a tick from my pet?
If you find a tick on your pet, you must remove the parasite as soon as possible, since they must remain attached to your pet for at least 24 hours before they can transmit most diseases. Steps include:
- Apply alcohol — Use a cotton ball to apply alcohol to the tick at the attachment point, which should make the tick detach.
- Use tweezers — If the tick remains attached, grasp the head with fine-tipped tweezers. Avoid crushing or twisting the tick, since this can leave the tick’s mouthparts in your pet’s skin.
- Pull firmly — Firmly pull upward until the tick detaches.
- Inspect the bite — Inspect the bite area and use the tweezers to remove any remaining bits until you are sure none are left.
- Clean the bite — Clean the tick bite area using soap and water. Then, wash your hands thoroughly.
- Monitor your pet — Monitor the bite site for infection and your pet for tick-borne illness signs, which can take weeks or months to manifest.
- Identify the tick — Place the tick in alcohol so you or your veterinarian can identify the species should your pet become ill.
No one enjoys dealing with ticks, but we hope this information helps you safeguard your pet from these problematic parasites. If you think your pet may have a tick-borne illness or you would like to discuss the best tick prevention product for them, contact our Greenfield Veterinary Clinic team.