Ticks are arachnids that belong to the same family as spiders and mites. They are parasitic and feed on the blood of host animals. They are visible to the naked eye, but the start of around the size of a pinhead before swelling with blood as they feast.
Animals living in the Southern States or near heavily wooded areas will have increased exposure to ticks which like to live in thick long grass, as it allows them to attach to host animals as they walk by. They are most active during the late spring and summer months and they are not fussy which breeds of animals they feed on. However, animals that spend a lot of time outdoors will be more susceptible to ticks.
Animals with few ticks can present with little or no symptoms and it is often not until there is a larger infestation or infection from the bites that signs become apparent. If and when symptoms do materialize they can include itching, scratching and visible red or inflamed irritations on the skin.
Ticks can transmit a number of diseases including Babesia, Cytauxzoonosis, Lyme disease and Mycoplasma. Some animals can also have allergic reactions to tick bites which result in infections. Symptoms from these reactions or diseases can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and pain and can last for several days or several weeks. If you are concerned that your pet has developed illness from a tick bite, consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Dogs and cats that spend a lot of time outdoors will be at a higher risk for picking up ticks, but checking your pet carefully on a regular basis will help you prevent a tick infestation from taking root.
You can check for ticks by running your hands over your pet's coat to check for any unusual lumps as well as carefully check the preferred locations for ticks, which is around the head, feet, and ears.
It is best to remove a tick as soon as you spot it by treating the area with rubbing alcohol and removing the parasite using a pair of tweezers. Be sure to remove all parts of the tick as it is possible for parts of it to remain embedded in your pet's skin which could lead to an infection. Additionally, the tick's blood could be infected with a number of diseases so avoid getting it on yourself or your pet.
Ticks are notoriously difficult to kill so throwing it away or trying to drown it in the toilet is not always effective. Instead, submerge the tick in a jar of rubbing alcohol to stop it from reattaching to your animal.
There are many topical and oral treatments available that both treat fleas and kill ticks whilst protecting against future infestation. Speak with your veterinarian who can help you select the right treatment for your pet.
As with most illnesses, prevention is almost certainly better than cure! Speaking with your veterinarian about oral or topical treatments to protect against tick infestation is important, but there are also a number of things you can do to make your surrounding area a less hospitable environment for ticks by ensuring that your lawn is mowed regularly and that any tall weeds are removed.