Ticks as Disease Carriers in Pets

Ticks are not insects like fleas, but arachnids like mites, spiders and scorpions. They have a four-stage life cycle: eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults. Adult females of some species lay about 100 eggs at a time. Others lay 3,000 to 6,000 eggs per batch. Six-legged larvae hatch from the eggs.

After at least one blood meal, the larvae molt into eight-legged nymphs-in some species, more than once. Final nymphs molt into adult males or females, also with eight legs. Depending on its species, a tick may take less than a year or up to several years to go through its four-stage life cycle. While ticks need a blood meal at each stage after hatching, some species can survive years without feeding.

Ticks as Disease Carriers

The United States has about 200 tick species. Habitats include woods, beach grass, lawns, forests, and even urban areas. Ticks may carry various infectious organisms that can transmit diseases to cats and dogs, including the following (listed with possible symptoms):

  • Babesiosis: Lethargy, appetite loss, weakness, pale gums
  • Ehrlichiosis: High fever, muscle aches
  • Lyme disease: Lameness, swollen joints, fever, poor appetite, fatigue, and vomiting (some infected animals show no symptoms)
  • Tick paralysis in dogs: Gradual paralysis, seen first as an unsteady gait from uncoordinated back legs (some infected dogs don’t develop paralysis).

In June 1992, USDA licensed a vaccine to prevent Lyme disease in dogs. In most cases, immunity lasts at least five or six months.

Removing a Tick from Your Pet

Using fine-point tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull gently. Make sure you’ve cleaned your hands, the bite site, and the tweezers with disinfectant. You may want to wear latex gloves. The Lyme Disease Foundation, Hartford, Conn., suggests:

  • Apply tick-killing pesticides to your pets.
  • Treat your pet’s environment with tick-killing pesticides.
  • Mow grass regularly.
  • Avoid allowing your pet in grassy, wooded or beach areas, unless you take appropriate precautions. While in areas of tick exposure, examine pets closely for ticks on a daily basis, especially around the head and inside the ears.
  • Remove ticks immediately. This is important because it can take hours for an infected tick to transmit disease. Using fine-point tweezers, grasp the tick where the mouth parts are embedded into the skin and pull gently. Make sure you’ve cleaned your hands, the bite site, and the tweezers with disinfectant. You may want to wear latex gloves.
  • Place the tick in a small container, like a pill vial. Label the container with the date, pet’s name, type of animal, and your name, address, and phone number. Call your veterinarian about having the tick analyzed for type and possible diseases it may transmit.
  • Never remove a tick with your fingers, as the squeezing further injects infectious material.
  • Never try to burn a tick off or to smother it with petroleum jelly or nail polish, as these methods don’t work.