Yes, kids, it’s time for another installment of Ask the Crankyvet. Gather round.
Our first question comes from @sizah1:
How about tick removal, and tick identification?
This is a fantastic question. Well done.
I generally try to address multiple questions in each blog, but I am going to dedicate this entire blog to this topic. Why? Because it’s important. Also, I am The Cranky Vet and I say so.
The key to tick removal is speed and caution. Most diseases transmitted by ticks (such as Lyme’s disease) require that the tick be attached for at least 24-48 hours. One easy way to minimize the possibility of your pets acquiring these illnesses is to do a daily tick check, especially if you live in areas with high tick prevalence or engage in outdoor activities such as hiking or camping where ticks may be present. The most common places you will find ticks include the feet, head, ears, and neck, but I recommend running your hands over the entire body so that none would be overlooked.
When removing ticks, be careful not to expose yourself to possible disease exposure (though the risk is low) by either wearing gloves or using tweezers or specially made tick removal tools, which can be purchased at major pet store chains at a minimal cost. Lots of “old school” methods have been described as well, such as applying alcohol, petroleum jelly, turpentine, nail polish, and lit matches. These are not encouraged due to speculation that they may either cause irritation or even speed up the process of disease transmission from the tick to the pet. One such method (that I personally have employed when necessary with no negative results over the years) is to apply a dollop of liquid soap to a cotton ball and apply to the tick for a minute, effectively smothering the tick, which generally results in it detaching from the pet. Again, it is preferred that tweezers or a removal tool are used in a swift lift and slight twist motion to dislodge it. You want to grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as possible and pull steadily but surely. Try not to squeeze the tick when removing. If the head is accidentally left attached, it will dislodge on its own but may result in local irritation or swelling for a few days, which is generally self-limiting and not harmful.
Ticks can transmit many different diseases. Most people have heard of Lyme disease, but Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are other concerns. In fact, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever is the most prevalent disease transmitted from ticks to humans. Ticks can also cause tick paralysis in pets, which is often resolved quickly one all of the ticks have been removed. Here is a link with more information about these diseases, their regional prevalence, and which ticks are responsible for their transmission. The information about the illnesses relates to human exposure. I will address these illnesses in pets later in this blog.
Generally, ticks require 3 separate blood meals during separate life stages (egg, larvae, nymph, adult) during their average 2 year lifespan. The larvae and nymphs require a blood meal in order to be able to successfully molt to the next stage. It is the final life stage and meal, or the adult tick, that attaches to pets and humans. Adult ticks are generally most active in the fall but can survive through the spring without a host. Interestingly, after the males feed, they generally detach and die.
The easiest way to prevent exposure from these harmful illnesses that ticks can transmit, as well as prevent your pet from a tick infestation is to use one of the many safe and effective monthly preventatives. My favorite is Frontline, though there are many on the market. Some may be only available through your vet’s offices, but this is because they are the most recent, well-studied, and safe products available. Always check the label for safety instructions based on size, age, and type of pet. This is especially important when shopping for products for cats as many insecticides are marketed solely for dogs and may be highly toxic to cats.
This is a concise and informative summary about the common tick diseases affecting dogs in the U.S.
Also a concern is a disorder called “tick paralysis” which is caused by a neurotoxin secreted by the female tick while attached. Several varieties of ticks may cause this condition. It is most commonly seen after 5-7 days of attachment which is why early detection and removal of ticks from your pet is so important. Unlike the other diseases mentioned, once the ticks are removed, the condition does not continue to progress and usually resolves.
There are different types of ticks which are more prevalent in different areas of the country. Not all ticks spread the same diseases: Here is a quick guide to the most common varieties of ticks, how to identify them, where they are prevalent, and what diseases they are associated with transmitting. The information about disease symptoms on the following link applies to humans. Pets may exhibit different symptoms and often do not generally develop the famous rash or target lesions like humans do when exposed to Lyme’s disease. It is important to talk to your vet if you are concerned about tick exposure in your pets. It is especially helpful if you can identify the type of tick or have your vet examine the tick if possible to determine what exposure risks may be present for your pets. Not all ticks spread all diseases. Different areas of the country have different prevalences of tick types and disease concerns.
I believe these cards are available from this website for download or possibly even ordering for wallet sized guides.
Finally, this is a link to a map to the prevalence of reported tick-borne diseases and heartworms in dogs in the U.S.
Bottom line? While ticks can certainly be a nuisance and even a threat to the health of pets and humans, regular body checks, rapid removal, use of preventatives, and discussions with your local health professionals can minimize the risk and lead to a safer and more enjoyable summer and fall with your pets outdoors.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for your interest and stay tuned for more Q&A from me, The Cranky Vet, (when I feel like it of course.)