After being a veterinarian for 25 years, it is pretty uncommon to come across something that really creeps me out, but I understand how pet owners can get pretty disgusted when they find a tick on their pet. This discovery usually results in a hunt for ticks on all pets and humans in the house. It can be hard enough to find them on ourselves after time spent in the woods, let alone find them on a dog or cat completely covered with hair. And as if having this little bug mysteriously attached to the skin somewhere wasn’t enough, ticks also can transmit some diseases that can cause severe problems throughout the body if not diagnosed very early. Hopefully this article will remove some of the mystery about ticks, but more importantly give pet owners a better idea how to keep them off their pets.
There are four stages in the tick life cycle- egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and eight legged adult. Other than the egg stage, each stage must find a host to attach to for a blood meal to survive and progress to the next stage. Because three separate hosts are needed to complete the tick life cycle, it can take up to three years to go through the entire life cycle and most will die at some point just because they can’t find a host in time for the next feeding.
Ticks find their hosts by detecting odors, heat, moisture, and vibrations from animals. Ticks don’t jump or fly. They climb up onto grass or leaves and hang out there just waiting for a host to wander by and when within reach just grabs on for a ride. They will then find a place to attach and begin feeding. It is during this feeding that a tick can pick up one of the bloodborne diseases from the host if it is carrying it. Once done feeding the tick drops off and prepares for the next life cycle stage. If it did pick up one of the bloodborne diseases, it can then pass it to the next host. It is important to remember that these diseases aren’t inherent in the ticks. The reservoirs for these diseases are the earlier hosts, such as wild rodents and small animals. The ticks are only the vehicle that is used for them to pass from one species to another. In other words, the incidence of these diseases isn’t whether the ticks are in the area, but whether the small wild animals in the area are infected with the organisms causing the diseases.
Until recently there have been three primary ticks seen in this area. The American Dog tick and the Brown Dog Tick, which can both transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the Lone Star Tick which can transmit Ehrlichiosis. More recently, the Blacklegged Tick (also called Deer Tick) has crept into our area. The Blacklegged Tick is responsible for the transmission of Lyme Disease and has been a huge problem in people and dogs in all states east and west of Ohio. Now that we are seeing Blacklegged ticks in this area, it is inevitable the incidence of Lyme Disease will eventually start to increase in us and our pets making screening for ticks and tick prevention even more important than it has been in the past.
For the past several years our best defense against ticks on dogs has been a topical product called Vectra 3D. It is applied monthly and is effective against fleas and ticks and also serves as a repellent for some other insects. Vectra 3D still works great, but last year a new product was approved called Bravecto. Bravecto is a chewable tablet for dogs over 6 months of age that kills fleas and ticks. It is effective for fleas, Blacklegged Ticks, American Dog Ticks and Brown Dog Ticks for 3 MONTHS!!! At the end of 3 months, it is still over 99% effective. It also kills Lone Start Ticks for 2 months. We used this product last year and pet owners loved being able to just give a pill and not put stuff on the dog’s skin. Options for tick control in cats are more limited. Revolution is a topical to be applied monthly and has been a great product for many years. It prevents fleas, ticks, heartworms and some intestinal worms in cats. We are only 4-6 weeks away from tick season so ask your veterinarian what products he/she prefers.
Chad Higgins, DVM has owned Amanda Animal Hospital for almost 18 years and sees dogs, cats, ferrets, and other little furry critters.