By Stephanie Beauvais
A SCARS intake named BamBam came into our care with a few hitchhikers on him — ticks! With a seemingly increased amount of tick bites being seen in Alberta, SCARS would like to share some information with you about keeping your pets safe from ticks, especially if you’re planning on getting out to enjoy the great outdoors with your pets this summer.
Ticks – What Are They?
Ticks might really “bug” us, but they are actually considered arachnids, not insects; they’re more similar in anatomy to spiders and scorpions. They’re also parasites, meaning that they feed on the blood of a host animal or human. Since ticks usually seek out a different host per life cycle, this makes them excellent carriers of disease as they transition from host to host.
Ticks find their hosts by actively searching for animal breath or body odours, and by sensing body heat or movement. They’re smart enough to identify well-used paths in order to do this. That being said, they can’t fly, or jump; instead, they rest on tips of grasses or shrubs and wait for their next host to brush past them, which makes areas of overgrown grass and weeds optimal hunting grounds for them! They grab hold of whatever they may be using as their hiding place with just a few tiny legs, and leave the rest of their legs outstretched and ready to grasp onto their next victim. Sometimes, they even “go the extra mile,” and actually crawl towards their next meal.
Some ticks attach right away, while others spend a little more time looking for the perfect feeding spot, which is usually where the skin is thin. They then make a cut into the skin to attach themselves, insert their feeding tube, and begin to feed. Depending on the type of tick, the feeding tube may be barbed in order to keep them locked in place while feeding. Others are masters of stealth, and secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties; these ticks may go a long time without being noticed by their host, as their host will not be able to feel them feeding.
After their dinner (which may continue slowly over the course of several days), the tick will detach itself, and prepare for it’s next unsuspecting host. Females will often lay their eggs after feeding, which can sometimes reach amounts of up to 6,500…just at one time!
Checking for Ticks
As mentioned before, ticks might go unnoticed courtesy of the stealthy anesthetic properties of their saliva. That being said, actual symptoms of tickborne diseases may not even present themselves until 7 to 21 days after the initial tick bite. On top of bloodborne diseases, the open wound created by a bite itself could leave your pet susceptible to other diseases, meaning that it’s important to check your furry friend regularly for signs of ticks.
On animals, ticks like to embed themselves around ears, lips, armpits, and toes. This doesn’t mean that a tick can’t be found in other places, though, so make sure to check your pet thoroughly! It is recommended to check your animals daily for ticks, especially after they spend time outdoors. The last thing you need after a relaxing camping trip is a tick setting up it’s own camp on your pet!
How to Know When Your Pet is “Ticked” Off
Signs and symptoms vary depending on the species of tick that’s making a host of your pet. Most signs and symptoms are vague, but may include:
- Generalized weakness
- Reluctance to move
- Signs of depression
- Leg lameness that may last 3-4 days
- Joint pain or arthritis-like stiffness when walking
- Loss of appetite, loss of weight, and/or loss of muscle mass
- Spontaneous nose bleeds and/or bruising to gums and belly
- Neurologic abnormalities
- Discharge from eyes
Removing a Tick
Common myths suggest applying treatments to encourage the tick to detach itself; the goal of tick removal, in actuality, is to remove the tick from the animal as quickly as possible. A tick can live up to two years without a meal, so the waiting game can be a dangerous one to play!
To remove a tick:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible; it is recommended not to use your fingers, as this may increase your chances of contracting any possible disease carried by the tick.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submerging it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, or wrapping it tightly in tape. Never crush a tick with your fingers. See below for information on submitting a tick to Alberta’s tick surveillance program.
How Can We Prevent Ticks?
Preventing ticks may sometimes be no easy task, but your first step in tick prevention starts in your very own backyard. As ticks like to use hideouts while waiting for their hosts, eliminating their potential living spaces can help minimize your risk at home. You can do this by: mowing your lawn frequently, keeping stacked wood neat and dry, removing leaf litter, clearing tall grasses and bushes around your home, and using a fence to discourage wild animals from entering your yard. If you have a wooded area bordering your backyard, try to create a 3-foot barrier between this area and your lawn to restrict tick migration into your yard. This can be done with wood chips or gravel. It is also recommended to remove furniture, mattresses, trash, etc. from your yard. Getting rid of a tick’s favourite hangout will help limit your pet’s risk of being bit.
Repellents are available, and prevent the tick from coming into contact with your pet in the first place. Pesticides further kill the tick on impact, or may be absorbed into the bloodstream of a dog in order to kill the ticks attached. Pesticides should be used with caution, though; although helpful to dogs, some may be toxic to cats. Pesticides may be found in specific dusts, impregnated collars, sprays, or topical treatments. Unfortunately, there are no vaccines available to prevent tick bites from happening in the first place. Talk to your veterinarian about suggested options to keep your furry friend safe.
Ticks in Alberta
As part of their tick surveillance program, the Alberta government is asking that any ticks found on either yourself or your pet be submitted to their program to determine if the parasite is disease-carrying. Ticks found on yourself can be submitted to a physician or a public healthcare office. Ticks found on pets or other animals are to be submitted to a veterinarian. Participation of Albertans is crucial to this program, and it has been through which that the government has been able to keep tabs on the incidences of Lyme disease in Alberta. More information about this can be found at http://www.health.alberta.ca/health-info/lyme-disease.html.