Tick season is here: How to protect your pet from pests
Although there are nearly 900 different species of ticks, less than 10% of them are found in the United States, and many fewer than that are likely to come in contact with you and your dog.
But these -- American dog tick, lone star tick, deer tick and brown dog tick -- pose a serious health threat. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Canine Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and more.
Ticks are arachnids, not insects. They have four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. All stages (except the egg) need to feed on the blood of a host to survive. Depending on the species of tick, it can take as little as a few months or as long as two to three years for a tick to mature to its adult stage.
When an egg hatches, the larva looks for a host to feed on. Hosts can include humans, wild and domestic mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Many tick species prefer to feed on different hosts depending on their life stage, while others prefer one host species.
The larva develops into a nymph and then becomes an adult, all the while feeding on the blood of a host or hosts. Male and female adults mate on a host. After mating, the female falls to the ground to deposit her eggs -- up to 6,000 of them!
Ticks are not born carrying disease. They become carriers of disease when they feed on a diseased host and then share it with all subsequent hosts.
Ticks prefer wooded areas and areas with tall grasses, but can be found anywhere from a neighborhood park (or dog park) to your own backyard. They are often transported from one place to another by their hosts.
Ticks can't jump or fly. They climb up grasses or small shrubs and wait. When a suitable host passes by, they reach out their front legs and grab on, quickly crawling to find the best place to attach and feed.
Unlike other tick species, the brown dog tick can survive indoors. They may hide in small cracks, under rugs and furniture, and on curtains.
It is important to check your dog for ticks because it is easy for them to go unnoticed. If a tick should decide your dog is its host of choice, it will bury its teeth into the dog's skin and begin feeding. Since it can take up to three days for Lyme disease transmission, finding and removing ticks as soon as possible is very important.
Ticks tend to prefer certain areas of a dog, so check these spots very carefully. Under the front legs (your dog's "armpits"), between the back legs (his groin), and around the base of the tail are favorite feeding spots.
Also, be sure to check between the toes, under his collar, and in and around his ears. You probably won't miss the ticks that decide to feed around his eyelids!
If you should find a tick, use tweezers to remove it. There are also tools specifically designed for removing ticks, but tweezers will work just fine. Wearing gloves to protect your skin, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull slow, steady, and straight.
Twisting may cause the head or mouthparts to break off, increasing the risk of infection. Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet.
If the thought of removing a tick makes you nauseated, the team at your veterinarian's office will be happy to remove it for you. They do it regularly!
The best thing you can do for your dog is to prevent ticks from transmitting disease to him by giving him year-round preventions. There are several different brands and methods of delivery available, including oral, topical, and collars. Your veterinarian will help you decide which products are best for your dog based on your lifestyle.
A word of caution: never use a tick prevention (or any other) product intended for dogs on cats. They can be extremely toxic.
• Diana Stoll is the Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire, (847) 683-4788; and Gilberts, (847) 426-1000. Visit the website at www.redbarnpetvet.com.