There are many parasites we need be concerned about that can affect our pets. Ticks are one of the most common and frightful. Most people shudder just at the thought of a tick, let alone finding one on their pet or in their house. Unfortunately, the people who study these things tell us we should expect a large increase in the numbers of ticks. Global warming and milder winters may be contributing to the surge of ticks, even to areas they may not have populated before.
Ticks are found worldwide, but tend to be found more in areas with warm, humid climates. They are parasites that attach to mammals, birds, and occasionally reptiles and amphibians, and suck blood from their host.
There are four stages in the tick life cycle; each tick requires three hosts and takes at least one year to complete the cycle. Each female tick can lay up to 3,000 eggs in the environment. Egg hatches and forms a larva which is very small, the size of a head of a pin, and it attaches usually to a small mammal or bird. Once it is done feeding, it detaches, and molts in the environment to the next stage, the nymph. The nymph then finds another, usually larger host to attach to and suck blood. Once it is done, it detaches, and matures into the adult tick. Adult ticks then need to find a suitable host. They climb to the top of long grass, bushes, or other plants, and wait for a dog, cat, deer, cow, or any other animal to brush up against it. Once on its host, it again bites the skin and feeds by drinking blood.
There are many different species of ticks, but most, if not all, can carry diseases they can give to their host. Common tick borne diseases are Lyme disease, Babesia, Ehrlichia, Anaplasmosis, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. All of these diseases can affect dogs, and many can occur in cats, people, and other species. The eggs can be infected inside the female tick, so even the tiny larval tick can be infectious.
There are some things you can do to try to prevent ticks in your house and yard. If you live in a more rural area, guinea fowl are great tick exterminators. Just two birds can clear two acres in one year. You can reduce the tick habitat by removing the leaf litter and clearing tall grass and brush. Discourage any wildlife from entering your yard with fences. If you live near woods, create a three foot wide barrier at the edge of your lawn with wood chips or gravel; ticks can't crawl across this. You should check your pets daily and remove any ticks you find.
We have three chemicals that we use on pets that will kill ticks, but only one can be used on cats. Fipronil, found in Frontline, can be used on dogs and cats. Permethrin has been used on dogs, but is very toxic to cats, you need to read labels and if it says "for dogs only", do not apply it to a cat as it will likely be lethal. Amitraz will also kill ticks. It is available for dogs only, in the form of a collar called Preventic. This is very effective but you must make sure the dog can't eat the collar. A new product by Merial called Certifect is a combination of fipronil and a low dose of amitraz. This is for dogs only, is applied topically once monthly, and is very effective.
You should talk to your veterinarian about the tick diseases in your area. There is a test kit your veterinarian can use in the clinic that will test for Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichia at the same time your dog gets its annual heartworm test. Your veterinarian can also discuss any treatments or preventatives from which your pet may benefit.