Ticks On Pets – Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention

Ticks On Pets – Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention

Pets like dogs and cats are likely to get ticks if they go outdoors even for a short period.

When ticks attach themselves to a host, they can transmit infection within 24 to 48 hours. That is why you have to be prompt in removing these parasites. As a matter of fact, a Tick Check should be part of your everyday pet care routine especially if you have wooded areas or long grass nearby.

Ticks are Ectoparasites, meaning they are the parasites that live outside of the host animal. Identifying one is not hard because they have some unique characteristics.

Ticks have 8 legs since they are arachnids (related to spiders). They vary in color from black to brown to tan. Size may change depending on species – some can be as small as a head of a pin, so it may not be that easy finding them. Although mostly active throughout warmer months, they can be active during winter as well. Some are even known to survive a killing frost for a couple of days.

Unlike popular belief they can’t fly or jump. Majority of tick species wait in a position known as “questing“, where they hold onto leaves and grass by their third and fourth pair of legs and hold the first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to climb on to the host.

Species like Brown Dog Tick are capable of living in homes and kennels. These species tend to stick to dogs as hosts and rarely bite humans and other animals. Another species, the deer tick (blacklegged tick) and the Lone Star ticks can feed on different hosts including cats, dogs, and people. The Wood tick (American dog tick) prefers dogs and humans.

Identify popular ticks.
Tick identification guide

A tick infestation will definitely cause anemia (loss of red blood cells) which can eventually lead to death. Whatever the species of ticks, they not only cause discomfort and itching but can also be the carriers of deadly diseases like Lyme disease, Tularemia, Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), 364D rickettsiosis, tick paralysis and many other emerging tick-borne diseases.

Symptoms of Tick-borne illnesses:

A tick infestation, if left untreated will result in blood loss, skin lesions, heart or liver disease, neurological problems, including seizures and ultimately death. However, only one tick bite may be sufficient enough to deliver a tick-borne illness.

Symptoms of Tick-borne illnesses can take anywhere from three days to several months to show up after the infection. In pets, symptoms can be vague and hard to recognize. That is the reason why many pet owners don’t know if their pet is suffering until it’s too late.

The signs and symptoms of different tick-related diseases are pretty similar. One of the most common symptoms in humans is a rash near the bite site or a full body rash followed by other arrays of symptoms.

In felines, discharge from eyes, difficulty breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite are common symptoms of an infection.

Other symptoms that are common between felines, canines, and humans include fever, chills, stiffness, swollen joints, arthritis, fatigue, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and swollen lymph nodes. Pale gums, runny eyes and nose, bloody diarrhea are the telltale signs of a serious case.

One of the late symptoms in canines may include lameness, an abnormal gait (stance), which usually lasts for more than 3 days.

It can only take one bite to transmit an illness and there is no way to tell if a tick is carrying the deadly diseases or not. Thousands of humans and pets are infected in this continent every year. That’s why precaution is so important when it comes to ticks.

How to conduct a Tick Check?

If your pet has been outside for less than a couple of hours, most likely, ticks have not yet attached themselves to the skin. In that case, you can use a fine-toothed comb to comb your pet’s hair to get them out.

Tick on a dog
An engorged Tick on a dog.

Combing regularly helps but may not help when ticks are already attached.

Attached ones can only be detected by doing a Tick Check. Tick Check is the process where you have to use your fingertips to feel the ticks and visually look for them.

You can start by slowly running your fingers on your pet’s entire body. The check should not be limited to just the torso.

These parasites tend to prefer places with lots of hair, folds and creases, where they are less likely to be detected.

Some common places they love hanging out are insides of the host ears, in between the toes, around the face, the chin, armpits, and anus area.

If you feel a bump as you are slowly running your fingers, that could potentially be a tick burrowed in. Look for dark circular/ elongated bumps with your eyes to verify after you feel the bump.

If your pet has thick and curly hair, using a comb to get the hair out of the way helps during this process.

Should ‘tick check’ be limited to only dogs and cats?

The good news is that no pet can directly transmit tick-borne illnesses to humans. But we can get ticks from our pets and, could end up with a tick related disease.

A Tick check should not be limited to just cats and dogs. It needs to be done to all members of the household; especially on the ones that might have come in contact with the pet that has a tick. They are known to hitchhike from one pet to another (and to humans) so if you have different pets, make sure to check them all.

 All warm-blooded animals, birds, and mammals can get ticks. Cold blooded animals like reptiles, amphibians, and fish can also get ticks but the species of these ticks are totally different from the ones warm-blooded animals get.

How to remove Ticks?

Okay; You just took your dog for a walk in the park. After getting home, you feel a bump on your dog’s body and think it’s a tick.

What should you do?

Well; don’t need to panic because I am going to teach you a quick and easy way to remove these parasites.

The process mentioned here is for removing ticks from a dog but you can also use some of the same steps to remove ticks from any hosts, including humans.

The goal here is to remove them as soon as possible. So, don’t be swayed to carry out some ‘folklore remedies’ such as burning the tick with lighters, painting them with nail polish etc.

More on the folklore remedies as well as natural remedies later on but for now, let us get back to ‘How to remove ticks.’

The first thing you need to do is get your Tick Removal kit ready. The kit should consist of the following:

  • Latex gloves or rubber gloves.
  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) for antiseptic and sanitization purpose.
  • Fine tipped pair of tweezers that has been sanitized thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol (fine tipped, the pointy ones, work best)

You can also find special tick removal devices in the market if you do not want to use tweezers.

Tick key, which resembles a bottle opener, is one such tool. There is a hole in the key that you can basically slip the tick into. Then, lift and pull the tick out just like you are removing a cap from the bottle.

There are other removal tools, with longer handles. Longer handle enables you to be further away from the bloodsucker if you are worried about getting too close to it.

My personal favorite is The Original Ticked Off Tick Remover. I really like this one because of the longer handle and ease of use. It has a specially designed bowl-shaped end with a notch that grabs the tick at the skin level, removes it completely in one motion and easily secures it for effortless disposal.

Note: If you are using a tick remover tool be sure to read and follow the directions on the package.

The process…

Some pets tend to get nervous due to all the commotion during the tick removing process. Hence, it is wise to get another person to hold your pet firmly and keep it relaxed.

The ‘Tick Removal kit’ should be kept within your arms reach so you can get to whatever you need easily.

Put on the gloves: These parasites are gross and gloves are recommended. If you don’t have gloves handy or don’t really care about being in contact with these bloodsuckers, then you may proceed without a pair.

Locate and grasp it: After you locate it, stretch the host’s skin and grasp the tick gently, with tweezers, as close to the host’s skin as possible without pinching the skin. This helps you to grab the tick by its head and not by its body. You have to be careful not to grasp it hard as you may squash it.

Pull the tick out: After grasping it, pull it outwards in one steady motion.

If you grasp the tick just by its body, its mouth-part may break off and parts of it might stay within the skin. If you leave mouth-part within the skin, an infection will occur.

While removing a tick using tweezers; never jerk, twist or squeeze it. After removing it, double check to see if you pulled the whole tick including the mouth-part.

What if mouth-part breaks off? In that case, use tweezers to get it out. It is important that you take everything out. Let the skin heal. If you see any infections after 3 days, most likely, some parts are still embedded in the skin. You need to contact your vet if that happens.

 It is not wise to use your fingers to remove a tick. When doing so, you are highly likely to squeeze the tick’s insides into the body of your pet, hence increasing the chance of a disease transfer. If you do accidentally squeeze it, be sure to take your pet to a vet immediately.

After removal: Store ticks as evidence after you pull them out. Drop them in a container or zip lock bags and put some rubbing alcohol in it. They may take some time to die even when dipped in alcohol so make sure they are submerged and sealed up completely. Alternatively, you can also store the bagged ticks in your freezer.

Symptoms of Tick related diseases take some time to show up. Therefore, if you find a tick on your pet, be sure to write the date on which it was found. This may help your vet quickly figure out the disease later on.

If you are not going to store it as evidence, note that flushing it down the toilet may not necessarily kill it. But whatever you do, don’t ever crush it with your fingers. Ticks carry infectious agents within themselves so why crush them and take a chance on being in contact with infections.

Lastly, use rubbing alcohol to clean the infected area. Usually, when a tick is removed, a welt may appear on the skin. This is an irritation that can be treated with over the counter medicine like hydrocortisone. Be sure to thoroughly clean the tweezers again with rubbing alcohol. Wash your hands and don’t forget to treat your pet for being a trouper. Also, continue to keep an eye on the treated surface and if you see any infection, prolonged redness and inflammation consult your veterinarian.

Here is a short video on the process:

Common removal myths:

There are many folk remedies on how to get ticks off pets. Please note that these folk remedies are not going to work.

Unorthodox tactics like burning the tick, freezing them using aerosol-based liquid freezing gel, using petroleum jelly like Vaseline, using nail polish etc, may only make matters worse.

These tactics can further hurt your pets. Ticks may emit more pathogens into their hosts when these tactics are applied. Putting alcohol on a tick when it is still embedded in the skin is a really bad idea. It will only backfire as the tick may latch on stronger and emit more saliva.

There are many incidences on how pet owners have lit their dogs on fire trying to kill a tick. So, do not try to burn it either.

Even after you pull it out, do not burn it because when ticks get burnt, they actually release toxic fumes which can be quite harmful when inhaled.

Some of these bloodsuckers are not easy to dislodge and are definitely disgusting. So, what if you have never pulled one out and this whole process of pulling a tick out is little scary to you.

The alternatives…

There are many available alternatives to get rid of the ticks. However, the best one has to be preventing them from getting on your pets in the first place.

Over the counter spot on medications:

Over the counter medicine that you can get from a pet store, online or the vet can be a very effective way to get rid of them as well as to prevent future attacks.

These drugs are good at keeping ticks and other parasites away from your pet for a certain period of time, usually a month before you need to re-up, depending on the type of medicine.

Some medication like Frontline and Bayer Advantage II is very effective in keeping ticks as well as fleas away from your pet’s body. And the best thing about these medications is the ease of use – just one or two drops monthly in between the shoulder blades.

Frontline Plus For Dogs.
Bayer Advantage For Cats.

Just like any other medicines, be sure to read the label/ instructions carefully and consult your veterinarian or do your research online if you have any questions.

Oral medicines: 

Oral flea medications such as NexGard for dogs is becoming more and more popular nowadays because you don’t need to be concerned about other animals, kids or adults coming in contact with your pet after the treatment.

They are also convenient since a majority of them are once a month chewable tablets and kill ticks as well as adult fleas. One downside to this preventive method is that they tend to be more expensive than other alternatives.

Before you choose this method, consider the lifestyle of your pet and what you are looking to protect against as many oral medications also help kill other harmful parasites.

Using medicated Shampoos:

Medicated shampoos is a fairly inexpensive option. This can be labor intensive method however as you might have to repeat using the shampoo for an extended period of time, depending on what the label says.

If your pet is too young, you should not use medicated shampoos so read the label carefully. Also, keep a note that the dog shampoo may not be used for other animals like cats.

I personally prefer oral or spot on medication rather than shampoos as the strength/ingredients in shampoos tend to wear out much quicker than the other two.

Using Tick Dips:

Tick dips are made from a mixture of various concentrated chemicals. They usually need to be mixed with water before being applied to an animal with the help of a sponge or hands, obviously with gloves on.

This method should not be used with pets under 5 months of age, nursing or pregnant due to the chemical mixture. Like any other medications, be sure to read the labels and instructions carefully before use.

Tick dips are only recommended if you have visibly large numbers of ticks and other ectoparasites like fleas. Due to the chemical nature of these dips, vets recommend not to use them more than 2-3 times a year.

Sprays and Collars that repel ticks:

Chemical sprays can also be used to kill ticks and other parasites. Even though some sprays claim that ticks will release their mouth on contact, they may not fall off instantly so you may have to manually remove them. Never use sprays on puppies and kittens.

Tick collars need to make contact with your pet’s skin to transfer the chemicals and be effective. These collars can cause discomfort if not put on right or if pets are allergic to the chemical components.

Natural Remedies:

If your pet is allergic to the harsh chemicals found in tick medicines and repellents or if you are looking for an eco-friendly substitute, there are definitely some natural remedies you can use.

Natural remedies are known to work best when multiple methods are implemented at the same time. Here are some popular ones:

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV):

Apple cider vinegar is a popular parasite repellant. Since Apple Cider vinegar is acidic in taste, it is very unappealing to ectoparasites like ticks and fleas. Just spraying pets regularly with ACV may be enough to get ticks off their backs.

In a few simple steps and no time at all, you can make Ticks and Fleas apple cider vinegar spray solution, at your own house.

ACV can also be ingested. Adding 2 tablespoons of ACV in food or water bowl will help raise blood acidity. This makes your dog’s blood, less appealing to ticks.

You can add ACV to cat’s water bowl as well. For cats, you only need to add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon to a cup of water. ACV not only helps to repel fleas and other parasites but also helps with bladder problems, respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, asthma and allergies in cats.

Garlic:

We all know garlic best for its natural antibiotic properties. Apparently, when garlic is given to pets as a dietary supplement, with food, ticks and fleas are less attracted to them.

When it is in your dog’s (or cat’s) system, garlic smell is permeated through the skin via sweat helping to repel the ectoparasites.

 Be very careful about the amount of garlic you give to your pets. Anything more than 1/2 clove per ten pounds of body weight each day, could cause anemia in dogs. Even for larger dogs, do not exceed 2 cloves a day. For cats, it should be way less, half of half a clove chopped up and mixed with food is more than plenty.

You should mix finely diced garlic with food every day for this method to work. Since garlic is rich in sulfoxides and disulfides, too much at one time can damage the red blood cells, so be careful.

Using Essential oils/ Aromatherapy oils:

Rose Geranium Essential Oil is one of the very popular tick repellents. It is often used in combination with almond oil (20 drops of essential oil mixed with 3 tablespoons of almond oil) and a few drops of that mixture is applied on dog’s fur, primarily around the collar.

Aromatherapy oils like basil, cinnamon, lavender, eucalyptus, cedar, pennyroyal etc are natural repellent for ticks. First, make a mixture using equal amounts of any 3 of the above-mentioned oils. Secondly, mix this mixture of oil thoroughly with pure almond oil (1:1 ratio). Then, dip a cloth in the mixture and have your pet wear it while going outside.

Neem Oil is another popular repellent which can be rubbed on your pet’s fur. For sensitive dogs, you might have to use the mixture of neem oil and some other light oils like almond oil.

You can’t use any oils on cats because cats will ingest them when grooming.

Using citrus/ mint repellent:

Ticks despise the smell of citrus or mint and their sprays are fairly easy to make in your own house.

To make lemon/lime spray, start by boiling 2 cups of water. After the water boils, add 2 lemon/lime sliced thinly (peel included) so that all the juices can come out. Let the whole thing simmer for about an hour on low heat. In order to prevent it from getting burnt keep adding water, one cup at a time, whenever necessary. After an hour, take out all the solids with a strainer. Let the liquid cool down and put it in a spray bottle.

Lemon/lime sprays are safe. You can spray your pets, yourself, kids, inside the house, outside the house, wherever you think you need to spray in order to repel the parasites.

Mint sprays are even easier to make. Just add about 20-30 drops of peppermint essential oil in a cup of water. Put it in a spray bottle and spray as you please.

To make the sprays more effective use them more often. Like I mentioned before, you have to implement a combination of natural remedies at the same time to make the fight against ticks more effective.

Some other things you can do:

Use food-grade Diatomaceous Earth:

Diatomaceous earth also known as D.E., diatomite, or kieselgur/kieselguhr is naturally occurring soft siliceous, sedimentary rock. It is used as an insecticide due to its abrasive and physico-sorptive properties; which absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. Arthropods like ticks die as a result of water pressure deficiency. – Wikipedia.

D.E. works especially well on cats. Sprinkle the earth all along the cat’s body except for eyes, mouth, and nose. Leave it for 24-72 hours and bathe your cat afterward. Inhaling D.E. can be dangerous so be sure to put a mask on when using it.

This amazing earth can also be used as a preventive measure both outdoors and indoors. Just spray the lawn thoroughly with D.E. when rain is not in the forecast. You can also spray it indoors; on the carpet, furniture and drapes. After spraying, leave it for a week then vacuum and clean the sprayed areas. Repeat this process if needed.

Pay attention to your lawns and yards:

The way your yards and lawns are kept may have everything to do with your tick problems.

Adult ticks tend to hang out on the tall grasses and dense shrubs so they can quest on to a host. If you just trim your grass and shrubs, around the house and where your pet plays, the chances of getting ticks can highly diminish. Keeping your lawn to just an ankle length also decreases the chances for immature ticks (nymphs) to quest on hosts.

Keep the yards clean and make sure to remove dead leaves and twigs. Ticks love shady and humid places so cleaning up the yard at least once a week really helps. Doing your landscaping in ways that allow more sunlight in the area also helps.

Be careful when using mulch. Usually, tick problem has been found to be more prevalent after a mulch use in gardens. Ticks love the moisture mulch provides.

Ceder is natural tick and flea repellant. So, if you do use mulch, choose nuggets or chips of cedar rather than other varieties. Chips/nuggets are better than the shredded kinds since it retains less moisture making them better tick repellent. If your yard is next to a neighboring woodland, use cedar mulch and gravels along with 4 (or more) foot of swath of mowed lawn.

Discourage wild animals to your lawn:

Try to deter wild animals from coming into your yards. Wild animals especially deer are high occupancy vehicle for ticks and should be unwelcomed in your yard if you have a serious tick problem.

Deer avoid plants with strong fragrance, irritating textures, and those that upset their stomach, like plants from citrus, lavender, and the mint family. Sage, Eucalyptus, American beautyberry are some other ones that deer tend to avoid. So, planting these kinds of plants around the house can deter deer and help lower the number of ticks around your house.

Other animals like chipmunks, squirrels, and mice can also be the carriers. It is not possible to stop all these animals from coming to your yard but if you have as little ground cover plants as possible, it helps. Ground cover plants are the plants that cover the whole ground, making it a great place for animals to come hide or look for food.

Encourage tick’s natural enemies:

Ticks natural enemies are ‘wild birds that feed on insects’. But how do you attract these insect-eating birds in your yard? By planting ‘insectary plants’. Insectary plants are plants like fennel, angelica, coriander (cilantro), dill, wild carrots etc that provides a great number of tiny flowers which attract beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. This in turn, also attracts the insect-eating birds that would love to feed on the slow moving ticks, which are way easier to pick out and catch straight out from the grass blades.

Do you have a ‘tick story’, remedies or anything valuable that is going to help readers that are trying to find a solution for their tick problems? Please, Share in the comments!

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3 Responses to Ticks On Pets – Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention

  1. I have small breed dogs that are mostly indoors (they cannot tolerate heat), but I finally had to get them on some preventatives. This year has been the worst with ticks. Ironically, fleas haven’t been bad at all!

  2. “Tick season” in Florida hasn’t really officially peaked and it is already absolutely horrible (for the dogs and the kids – and us). We have been using DE in the yard to try to control them and Bravecto on the dogs. The kids still come in from playing with babies on them once in a while. I have been trying to use OFF on them when they go out. It helps a little. I almost feel like we need to cut back some trees and spray the trees at the top.

  3. I didn’t realize people were setting their pets on fire trying to burn off ticks, yikes!

    We use Frontline, but I’ve heard of animals getting sick from it, you just can’t win. 😛 I’ve used a natural spray to repel insects, too, but you have to use that daily or when you go out. Even with Frontline, I think it’s good to use an additional spray, even if it’s just an apple cider vinegar dilution, when you go out on hikes or to the park.

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