The Ultimate Guide to Ticks: Tick-Fever and other Tick-Borne Diseases, Removal & Tick Prevention in Dogs and Cats
Ticks find their way on dogs and cats no matter how much you try to avoid them. But your pet doesn’t have to suffer the brunt of tick fever and other tick-borne diseases if you know a few simple ways to prevent ticks on dogs and cats and how to get rid of the ticks that have already gotten onto them. We decode the menace ticks cause, who they are, what they want and how to deal with them!
In this ultimate guide, we will talk about:
- What are Ticks?
- How do Ticks harm my pet?
- Can Ticks harm Humans?
- How did my Pet get Ticks?
- Finding and Removing Ticks
- Tick Attack & How to Handle it
- How to prevent Ticks?
What are Ticks?
Scientifically classified as an Arachnida (the same class as spiders, scorpions, mites, etc.), ticks have been around for at least 90 million years now. These small (1mm to 1cm) creepy crawlies need to feed on blood to complete their complex life cycle.
Ticks don’t jump or fly. They simply crawl or drop upon their host of choice. Any animal, our pets, cows, deer, snakes even humans are hosts for ticks. If a tick is starved from a blood meal, it will eventually die. However, certain species of ticks can survive even a year or more without a meal.
The Life Cycle of a Tick
A tick goes from an egg to larva to nymph to an adult in about 2 years time. They need to feed on blood at every stage of their life. However, some larvae can survive for 500 – 550 days without their first meal.
Ticks can be male or female. Male ticks usually die after mating, hence it is the female ticks that cause most bites and thus, most diseases. A female can lay up to 4500 – 6000 eggs in her lifetime of 3 years or so.
Types of Ticks
There are over 800 recognized species of ticks over the world. All of them belonging to two families; Hard Ticks (Ixodidae) or Soft Ticks (Argasidae). As you may assume, hard ticks have a harder covering (Scutum) on their back while soft ticks don’t.
Hard Ticks vs Soft Ticks
Hard ticks can feed for hours to days. The disease spreading pathogens, however, are only transmitted towards the end of a meal. Thus, a hard tick may have been on your pet for hours but may not have transmitted any pathogens yet. Soft ticks usually feed for an hour or less, hence the transmitting of pathogens happens quickly; sometimes within less than a minute.
Types of Ticks Commonly Found in India
|Common Name||Scientific Name||Habitat||Preferred Hosts||Diseases Transmitted|
|Deer Tick /|
|Ixodes Scapularis||Woody Areas||Deer, Dogs, Cats, Humans||Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Lyme Disease|
|American Dog Tick / Wood Tick||Dermacentor Variabilis||Near Water Reserves, Humid Areas, Marshes||Dogs, Humans||Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia|
|Lone Star Tick||Amblyomma Americanum||Near Water Reserves, Humid Areas, Marshes||Cats, Dogs, Humans||Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia|
|Brown Dog Tick / Kennel Tick||Rhipicephalus Sangninues||Indoors||Dogs, Cats||Ehrlichiosis, Form of Anaplasmosis|
There can be certain other types of ticks that are regional and specifically found in Indian conditions. They may differ in appearance from the above mentioned and can cause a different selection of tick-borne diseases.
Ticks Vs Fleas
Ticks and Fleas are the most common external parasites that affect humans and animals. They both are, however, not the same. Fleas (1/8th of an inch) are comparatively smaller than ticks. They appear as small dark dirt like specks on the fur. Fleas can come into your home through your pet, and go on to infest your house and breed there.
There are certain similarities between the both too. Ticks and Fleas both feed on blood and can cause serious health issues and diseases to animals and humans. Often times the same products can be used on your pets to control both. However, it’s always best to consult your vet before you try out any product on your pet.
How do Ticks harm my pet?
Ticks attach to your pet by inserting their tentacle-like mouthparts into your pet’s skin. They release a sticky glue-like substance containing anti-clotting compounds that keep the blood flowing as they feed and helps them stick tightly. The ticks then start feeding on your pet’s blood. This blood meal helps the ticks reproduce on your pet. A fully fed female tick lays several thousand eggs at once. Towards the end of their meal, ticks start releasing pathogens in your pet’s bloodstream, transmitting serious diseases and causing health issues.
Tick Fever & Other Tick-borne Illnesses in Dogs & Cats
Lyme Disease, Tick Fever, Canine Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis are some of the most common Tick-Borne Diseases. The symptoms for most of these diseases are similar. Thus, they are commonly called Tick Fever in India.
The symptoms of Tick Fever often start manifesting within 10-14 days of the bite. They include fever, loss of appetite, sudden weight loss, stiffness, lameness, fatigue, and lethargy. Some cases may include vomiting or diarrhea too. It is very important to have your pet diagnosed by a medical professional if any of these symptoms appear after you’ve found a tick/s on your pet. A blood test is recommended to ascertain the exact nature of the disease.
Most pets make a full recovery from tick fever, but it can be fatal without correct treatment. If your pet is too weak or suffers from anemia, your vet may suggest keeping them under observation.
Can Ticks harm Humans?
Tick-borne Diseases in Humans
Ticks do not care who they bite. If they have entered your home with your pet, you and your family are at risk too. Ticks are just as dangerous to humans as they are to animals. They can release the same disease-causing pathogens in the human bloodstream. Ticks affecting humans is not uncommon in India. Many incidents of people being diagnosed with the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Scrub Typhus, Kyasanur Forest Disease and other tick-borne diseases have been reported over the years.
Lyme Disease is also a tick-borne disease popular among humans. The symptoms of Lyme in humans like rashes, severe headaches, neck stiffness, irregular heartbeat, numbness or pain in hands and feet are often misdiagnosed for other, less serious illnesses. The delay in diagnosis lets a lot of patients progress deeper into the more serious stages of Lyme. Even after significant research and study into developing a cure for Lyme Disease, about 10% of people being treated still do not respond to the medication. There are no blood tests that can be done to ascertain Lyme, and it turns fatal in some cases.
So yes, ticks on your pet can harm you, your family, and other pets in your household. Majority of tick-borne diseases are not contagious. So if your pet is infected with a disease, it is unlikely that you will contact it. Though the same tick that caused the disease to your pet can infect you with it too.
How did my Dog or Cat get Ticks?
Ticks are a reality in every pet parent’s life. Occasionally, you will find a tick or two on your pet. There are a lot of contributors to this. Ticks reside in the outdoors on grass, plants, or trees, waiting for a host to drop on. These hosts then help the ticks transport to others, from there to the next, and so on. Below are the two most common ways the ticks could have found their way to your pet:
- Other Animals
Like we mentioned before, ticks don’t care who they bite. Anyone, right from squirrels, other dogs or cats, small rodents, to cows can be carriers of ticks. If your pet is a social chap that loves to meet other animals, ticks would most likely find their way on him. This is why most pets catch ticks during their stay at pet-boardings. Other humans too can be carriers of ticks. If not on their skin, then through their clothing, shoes, bags, or anything else they bring indoors with them. If you or a visitor managed to bring home a tick, it is possible they’ll drop on to your pet.
Whether you just went out on a hike, a walk, to the vet, or the dog park; anytime your pet is outdoors he/she is exposed to the risk of ticks. Grass is one of the choicest habitats for ticks. They can crawl on your pet from the ground up and start feeding. Given the speed at which ticks reproduce, it wouldn’t take long for a just a couple of stray ticks to turn into a full-fledged tick-attack.
Finding and Removing Ticks
Anytime you come across a tick on your pet, it is very important that you remove it immediately. And remove it the right way at that. Do a full-body inspection on your pet to ensure there are no more. An adult male Tick can be the size of a mustard seed and great at hiding in your pet’s fur. A fully-fed female looks like a giant raisin, while tick eggs can be as tiny as poppy seeds. It can be very difficult to locate them, but here’s some guidance that can help.
How to inspect your pet for Ticks
Run your fingers over your pet’s body with gentle pressure. Feel for any small bumps, granules or dust particles (tick eggs). Do not miss out important areas like inside and around the ears, around the eyelids, under the collar, under the front legs, between the back legs, between the toes, and around the tail. Anytime you come across a bump, part the fur to get a closer look at it and ensure if it is indeed a tick. Once you know it is, you need to get rid of the tick immediately. There are a few ways you can do that.
Manually removing ticks from your pet
The manual way of pulling out ticks from your pet can be tricky but effective if done right. Great for when there are a handful of ticks to remove. The manual way does not give your pet any future prevention from ticks, though. The best way to implement it is as a regular practice or a combination with any of the other methods. Here’s the right way to manually extract ticks.
- Wear a pair of disposable gloves to protect yourself from any pathogens that may release on accidentally crushing a tick. Get a clean pair of fine-tipped tweezers. If you have one lying around the house, wash it thoroughly.
- Take a glass of water to put the ticks in once you take them out. You could also add some rubbing alcohol to it. Keep handy a few cotton balls, some more rubbing alcohol, and antiseptic cream.
- Sit your pet down and ensure they are calm. Go on to inspect them as mentioned above.
- When you spot a tick upon parting, take your tweezers and grab at the tick as close to your pets’ skin as possible. Do not squeeze the tick too hard. Crushing the tick will release the pathogens into your pet’s bloodstream if the tick is still attached to your pet. Pinching the tick between the tweezers, pull it upwards straight. A tick who has been latched for long may take some effort in removing. Make sure to take out the tick in its entirety and not leave any parts behind.
- Put the ticks in the glass of water. Do not crush the tick to kill it. Doing so will release the pathogens out in the open to infect anyone.
- Take a small cotton ball and dip it in the extra rubbing alcohol. Use this to cleanse the spot on your pet you pulled out the tick from. Apply some antiseptic cream after.
Repeat these steps on all the ticks you find.
Products to remove ticks from your pet
You can buy a number of commercial products to get rid of the ticks on your pet. Some of these can easily be bought over the counter or online. Others can be prescribed by your vet. In any case, it is a good practice to consult your veterinarian about your choice of product. Also, read the ingredient list on the package before you use it on your pet. Google out any unheard of names. Ensure the product says “Safe for Dogs” or “Safe for Cats” and is appropriate for your pet’s age. Puppies are extremely sensitive and must never be treated with these products. Goes without saying, but refrain from using products with ingredients that can have serious or long-term effects on your pet.
It is to be understood that most topical application products will involve some kind of pesticides in order to kill the ticks. Follow the instructions and warnings on the package. Do not let your dog lick themselves or accidentally ingest the product.
- Tick Powders
Powders are a topical application product that helps kill as well as prevent ticks. Tick powders are generally very finely-milled and can cause irritation to your pet if inhaled. The best way to apply powders is to take some out on your hand and gently rub it onto your pet’s skin. Never use these powders near the face area or around open cuts or wounds.
Tick powders will need frequent reapplication. Once a week is a good routine during peak seasons. You could also read the instructions on the package, or ask your vet’s recommendation.
- Tick Sprays
Ticks Sprays are another topical application product effective in killing ticks quickly. They are also good for prevention. Spritz them close to your pet’s skin, around the areas that are most affected. Be careful and avoid spraying your pet’s face. Ensure there are no kids or other pets too close to breathe in the product while you spray one pet.
- Tick Shampoos
Shampoos formulated to kill ticks are another effective method. These shampoos contain medicinal ingredients, which when coming in contact with a tick will kill it. Bathing your pet once every two weeks is a good routine during peak seasons. Shampoos are one of the more inexpensive ways to get rid of ticks, but they do need more effort.
- Oral Medication for Ticks
Oral medication is the better route to take if you need something effective but have kids or other pets at home who could come in contact with topically applied products. However, DO NOT pick up medicines on your own without consulting with your vet. They’ll help you determine the best one and prescribe the right dosage as per your pet’s unique needs, health condition and age.
Keep the dosage limited to just as much as is prescribed. If the medicines are ineffective for any reason, reach out to your vet again. Do not overdose your pet with anti-tick medicines.
- Grooming Services
If you don’t feel as confident about picking at the ticks yourself, contact your local groomer. Most pet groomers and grooming salons offer a tick treatment service. Sometimes, vets do too. A tick treatment will involve thorough inspection and removal of all ticks from your pet. This may be slightly pricier than the other options, but it is reliable since it’s carried out by professionals and saves you a lot of effort.
What NOT To Do with Ticks
- Do not remove ticks with your bare fingers. While you could try to pull one out with your fingers occasionally, ensure you are wearing gloves. Accidently crushing the ticks causes them to release pathogens, and this release on your bare hands can cause you to get infected.
- Do not squish or crush a tick to kill it. Neither when on your dog, nor after you’ve pulled them out. Crushing a tick while they are still attached to your pet will surely infect him even if he hasn’t been infected to this point. The best way to kill ticks is to dunk them in a glass of water or rubbing alcohol.
- Do not use substances like nail polish, vaseline, or essential oils on still latched ticks. These substances irritate ticks and can cause them to vomit, increasing the chances of infection.
- Do not try to burn the tick when it is still on your pet. You do not want to risk hurting your pet.
- Do not dispose of ticks in dustbins or sinks. They can easily crawl out of these places and find their way back on pets or humans.
Finding a couple of stray ticks on your pet occasionally is a problem you can resolve at home with the above-mentioned methods of tick removal. Including some preventive practices can help manage the issue too. But how many ticks are too many? When does the alarm go off?
While there is no perfect math or number, if you find more than 4-5 ticks per 10 kgs of your pet’s weight, consider yourself under a tick attack. If this is true in your case, know you will have to work with your medical professional and groomer to resolve the issue with minimal harm to your pet. Get in touch with your veterinarian and ask for their recommendations. If your pet has started demonstrating any symptoms of Tick-Borne Disease, begin diagnosis immediately.
How to Prevent Ticks?
Prevention is better and less risky than cure when it comes to ticks. Accommodate your daily routine to fit some extra activities to save you and your pet panic and pain later.
Many chemical tick preventives are available these days – Spot-on, sprays, collars, powders, etc. You can easily get these online or at your local chemist. In some cases, your vet may even prescribe these to you.
All of these products may sound life-changing for the pet-parent troubled by ticks and fleas. However, they all contain pesticides in order to kill ticks or prevent them from infesting your pet. These can have extreme side-effects on your pet. Not to forget they are all definitely toxic.
Even the periodic oral medication to prevent ticks and fleas prescribed by vets have their share of risks. These drugs circulate in your pet’s bloodstream to attack the nervous system of ticks that feed on their blood. Once in your pet’s bloodstream, these drugs can remain there for weeks, even months. This can be very dangerous for the pet.
Numerous side-effects like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and even seizures have been reported in pets. However, these reactions can be avoided by swapping the chemical products with natural, herbal remedies as much as possible. As you may expect, the natural ways do need you to do some extra effort, they are also not as long lasting as the chemical alternatives. But going the 100% natural route does take out the risks for your pet.
Here are some habits you should start including in your schedule right from today to keep the little bloodsuckers away.
- Regular Inspection
Make inspecting your pet for ticks a habit. Do it as often as you can; ideally every day. Especially after they’ve returned from walks, a trip outdoors, a day at the park or a boarding stay. Take some time out to thoroughly go over their body and all the nooks and crevices to check for ticks. Leaving even a single tick on can be inviting a tick-attack before you know it.
- Dietary Inclusions
Adding neem, garlic and Apple Cider Vinegar in moderation to your pet’s diet helps in keeping ticks at bay. These add a particular odor to your pet’s body that is unappealing to ticks. So even if a tick manages to get onto your pet, the smell will repel them.
- Herbal Repellents
You can get your hands on herbal flea and tick powders, or make some yourself. Tick collars are all the rage these days. Consider opting for a natural variant that you can make yourself. Mix up a solution with 2 tablespoons of almond oil and two drops of geranium essential oil or palo santo essential oil. You can apply this solution to your pet’s neck area or put it directly on their collar to make an herbal, all natural tick collar. Repeat this every week.
Your pet’s bedding, bedsheet and other items they use on a daily basis can turn into breeding grounds for tick eggs and larvae. They provide these ticks a dark humid atmosphere to grow and easy access to your pet. However, regularly washing these items with hot water, or leaving them out in the sun can help get rid of them.
- House and Garden
If you’ve recently encountered a tick attack on your pet, it’s a good idea to deep clean your house and go for a pest-control routine. This helps get rid of any ticks or tick eggs lying around your home. Cleaning the ticks out entirely eliminates the risk of them infesting your pet again. If your home has a garden, it is very important that you keep the grass trimmed and use pesticides regularly.
Ticks are a reality of pet-keeping. There is no running away from them. But there is definitely a way to keep your pet safe from the life-threatening diseases that ticks can spread. Summers and monsoons are the peak tick seasons in India. These seasons need you to be extra cautious and start implementing preventive measures. However, if you’ve found ticks on your pet, and they are demonstrating any signs of tick-borne disease, you must consult your veterinarian as soon as possible and tell them about the same. If one stays vigilant, carries out constant inspections and removes the stray ticks immediately a tick-attack can definitely be prevented.
A pet with a strong immune system will always be able to fight off diseases far better. What you feed your pet plays a substantial role in the condition of their immune system. Switch them to better, healthier, cleaner meals today. Check out our meal plans here.
FOR INFORMATION ONLY – NOT VETERINARY CARE
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