-- Nature's Vampires
Even though people commonly think of ticks as "bugs," they aren't bugs or even insects. They are related to insects, but are in fact, arachnids. Arachnids are eight-legged creatures that include spiders, scorpions, mites, and, of course, ticks.
There are two types of ticks -- the soft ticks and the hard ticks. Soft ticks, as the name suggests, have soft bodies, bodies that can swell enormously while they feed. Soft ticks commonly are active only at night when they attach to a passing host, take their meal in a matter of hours, and drop off before sunrise. Since we tend to keep our pets inside, or at least confined at night, soft ticks are not a common problem with pets.
Hard ticks, on the other hand, are by far the most commonly found type of tick on pets. Hard ticks are just that -- they are covered with a hard, inflexible cuticle that does not allow their bodies to expand. When feeding, the hard tick ingests the host's blood, concentrates and retains the solid material from the blood, and returns the liquid plasma back into the host. As it does this, the tick may also inject a disease organism into your pet.
Need for Blood
Tick larvae, commonly known as "seed ticks," hatch from eggs and must take a blood meal before they can molt into nymphs. Generally, though, seed ticks are of little concern to the pet owner.
Nymphs, depending on the species, may pass through a number of nymphal stages before molting into the adult tick. As with the molt from larvae to nymph, a tick can pass from one stage to the next only after a blood meal.
It's the blood-meal-needed-to-molt requirement that creates the biggest hazard for your pet. Each time a tick feeds, it may pick up a disease organism from its host and then pass that organism along to its next host. The ticks are unaffected by the disease organisms that they carry, as are many of the naturally occurring hosts. It's only when the tick bites a non-immune animal, like your dog or your cat, that the disease manifests itself.
in Your Yard?
Most ticks lay their eggs in the leaf litter -- like your garden's mulch -- where the larvae emerge. Ticks require high humidity and a narrow temperature range to survive, so they stay in the litter until they are ready to feed. Then, they climb up a tall blade of grass or onto a tree or shrub's leaves and wait for a passing host. When a tick senses that a potential host is nearby, it drops from its perch in hopes of landing on its intended victim. If it misses, the tick returns to the litter and starts the process over again.
Ticks are active whenever the temperature is consistently above 40° F (5° C). That means that for much of the U.S. and Canada, the chance of your pet picking up a tick is very small from November through April. Unfortunately, in warmer areas, there is a significant risk year round.
that Transmit Disease
Alone Can Cause Illness
Fortunately, if diagnosed in time, the toxin doesn't appear to do any permanent damage -- recovery is usually total once the offending tick is removed.
What To Do?
Your Pet Inhospitable to Ticks
Collars can also be effective against ticks, but are best used only after you have ensured that your pet is tick-free. Most collars prevent ticks from attaching, but kill attached ticks only after about 72 hours. This is more than enough time for a tick to transmit a disease.
Your Yard Inhospitable, too
If you prefer not to
disperse pesticides into our environment, another approach is to remove
tick habitat from your yard. Keep tall grass clipped, remove any mulch
or leaf litter, and trim bushes so that they are away from areas that your
pet is likely to go.
Your Pet -- All Over
Gotta Come Out
Successful removal of the tick can be tricky -- and may be best left to your veterinarian. If you do choose to remove the tick yourself, do it right. Never, ever use heat, such as a match head or a cigarette, to make the tick back out -- that can actually make the situation worse. Read how to properly remove a tick before you try it yourself.
Pet's Health Depends on You