It’s Fall – and Ticks are out!

Ticks are common throughout much of the USA as well as the rest of the world.  They prefer fairly humid conditions but it must be at least 45F/ 7 C degrees to survive and reproduce.  In really cold or hot weather they are less active.  So in the fall, I see more of them after a summer hiatus.

Ticks are tiny ectoparasites (external on the skin parasites) that live off blood.  They will attach themselves to any mammal.  Deer, mice, & birds are all favorites, plus your dog or cat, and even yourself.

All species of ticks go through 4 life stages: egg, larva, nymph and adult.  But different ticks take different amounts of time to go through the whole cycle, and all need other hosts (3 to 7 depending on the tick species) and blood meals to continue development.  The important thing to note is that this is a long process which may take more than a year to complete.  The more ideal the conditions – warmth and humidity – the greater their numbers and the faster the life cycle.

A really dry year can interrupt the life cycle as the eggs, larva and nymphs may die without moisture, and then the next  year  or two the number of adults ticks will be lessened.

In the spring you and your dog are probably bitten mostly by nymphs, who have overwintered and now need to grow.   They are tiny!  This is why so many people who contract Lyme disease never remember having a tick on them (myself included).

Speaking of disease, ticks can transmit quite a few diseases, with Lyme disease probably being the most commonly recognized.  Other diseases include bacterial, viruses and protozoa (small one celled microorganisms).  Things like typhus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.  All these things can be transmitted to you or your pet.  Most disease takes a minimum of 36 hours to be transmitted through the bite of a tick, so when removed quickly the likelihood of actually becoming sick is greatly reduced.  It’s important to not that the tick must bite to transmit disease – your dog or cat cannot transmit disease directly to you if they have it.

To minimize the number of ticks in your yard, and therefore the exposure of ticks to you and your pets, there are some actions you can take.  Since up to 50% of migrating birds may carry ticks, either limit or move feeders, or stop feeding birds in the spring. This reduces the number of ticks falling off birds, and the mice, chipmunks, squirrels & deer that may pick them up from the ground when gathering fallen seed.

Guinea fowl love ticks, and if you have free range chickens, (or a bad infestation of ticks) invest in a few guinea hens as well.  Ticks are one of their favorite foods.

My suggestion is to make sure your pet is protected using Frontline Plus or another topical treatment that kills ticks on contact prior to a bite.  In general the spot on treatments last about a month.  Topical sprays work instantly as well, but don’t last as long.   Collars are not as common as they once were, but they do offer more protection around the neck and face.  I tried a Seresto collar on my dogs for the first time this past summer, and we had very few fleas and ticks on them so far this year.  Many of these items work on both fleas and ticks.

Oral medications work in the blood stream, but the tick must attach itself and feed before ingesting enough medication to kill it.  They can be useful in disrupting the life cycle in a severe infestation situation.

Best of all, pet your dog or cat each evening after being outside and feel for ticks – a tiny bump in the fur. or on the skin  Your pet gets one on one face time and you can remove the biting critters before they can do any damage.  Grasp a tick as close to the skin as possible using tweezers (or in my case, fingers) and pull straight out.  Don’t worry about leaving any mouth parts in the skin (and no, ticks do not bury their heads under the skin).  Alternatively, you can take a big glob of petroleum jelly and totally cover the tick to smoother it.  It will release from the skin to try to move out of it to breathe.  It may take quite a while for this to work, and we prefer to just pull them off.  If they are still alive, drop them into a jar with an inch or so of oil (any cheap oil) so they drown.  Don’t discard them alive or those little suckers will find a way to escape the garbage can.

What have you done to help protect your pets and yourself?