It surprises many people to learn that ticks are actually arachnids, belonging to the same family as spiders and mites. These little creepy crawlers are actually external parasites, attaching themselves to any warm mammal that passes by and feasting on their blood. They start off very small, but as they fill with blood they swell to three times their normal size.
Ticks can usually be found hanging out in wooded areas, tall grasses, bushes and trees, ready and waiting for a passing host. Although they can’t fly, they can drop onto their next meal, or grab on when your pet brushes past. Once on their body, they bury themselves deep within your pet’s fur so that they can’t be easily spotted. Then they tuck into their new all-you-can-eat buffet!
Their small size means that they look relatively harmless. However, they do present a number of dangers, both for your pet and the humans living in your home.
Tick Danger #1 – They carry infectious diseases
By far the biggest danger presented by ticks is the fact that they carry infectious diseases from host to host. In fact, they are well known for transmitting quite serious illnesses that can affect humans and pets including:
Lyme Disease. The bacteria in Lyme disease attacks your nervous system and potentially your eyes, joints, liver and heart. Not all ticks transmit Lyme disease – it is most commonly seen in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This bacterial infection is not overly common, but if contracted and not diagnosed early, it can cause serious illness and long-term health problems.
Tick Paralysis. As the name suggests, this condition sees the patient’s muscles going slack and becoming unresponsive. It is believed to be caused by a poison in the tick’s saliva.
Anaplasmosis. This is a bacterial infection that attacks your white blood cells, compromising your ability to fight disease. It affects around 1800 people in the Northeast and Upper Midwest each year.
Ehrlichiosis. This disease is very similar to anaplasmosis but is found in ticks in the South-Eastern and South-Central States.
Tick Danger #2 – They will not stop feeding until their meal is complete
Ticks have very strong mouthparts that enable them to attach themselves securely to the skin of their host. They remain in place until they have finished their meal, but unlike us or your pet, this doesn’t mean purely a few minutes. A tick can feed anywhere from a few hours to a few days. This means that if your pet is small and has a number of ticks, they may feel the effects of the blood loss.
Tick Danger #3 – Ticks must be handled with care
If you spot a tick on your cat or dog, you must remove it with extreme care. There are a number of tools you can purchase that are designed specifically to remove ticks, but a pair of tweezers will also suffice. When you remove the tick, you must be sure to ensure all parts of it, including the head, are out of your pet’s body. If the head becomes stuck, as is sometimes the case, do not be tempted to dig around it as this could put your pet at risk of infection. Instead, leave it in place and your pet’s body should expel it naturally after a few days.
Do not squeeze the ticks body when you remove it. This can cause it to regurgitate its infected stomach contents into the bite wound or on to your skin, where infection can enter through the most microscopic wound. Once the tick has been removed, you should ideally flush it down the toilet so that there is no chance the infected blood may be spread.
Many ticks are harmless, but the risk of infection remains. Thankfully there are many preventative treatments available that can help keep your pet safe. If you would like more information about the dangers of ticks, or you would like a recommendation for preventative treatment, please do not hesitate to contact our veterinary team in Birmingham at Avondale Animal Hospital.