What is a tick?
A tick is an ectoparasite that uses a wide range of hosts to feed through its blood: horses, pigs, dogs, cats, ruminants, birds, rodents, etc.
Of the nearly 800 species that are found all over the world, in Portugal there are a dozen and, within this group, there are especially two species that require our attention because they are the ones that parasitise our dogs. According to their morphological traits, we distinguish between
– “Hard” ticks, in as much as the cuticle that coats them is hard. This species resembles a “common” insect, like a beetle;
– Soft” ticks, in as much as the cuticle is soft. This species preferably attaches itself to the ears of animals and swells when filled with blood, resembling a bean.
Does it cause any danger to human and animal health?
Ticks, when carrying microbes, are a danger to our dogs and also to public health. The increase in the number of pets and, mainly, the successive and worrying neglect of dogs and cats, are key factors for the spreading of this parasite. This situation has become very worrying, not only because of the annoyance that the tick causes to the animal, but mainly because of the diseases that can transmit by biting it, when carrying microbes, viruses, ricketssias and other agents. These diseases are erlichiosis and babesiosis, which are very serious.
In humans, the bite can also cause diseases, such as the so-called “tick fever”, a dangerous situation that requires specific clinical care.
Only ticks carrying infectious agents transmit diseases to the dog: erlichiosis and babesiosis.
Ticks carrying these microbes (protozoa – single-celled microscopic creatures) will transmit them when they bite the animal. These protozoa will ‘colonise’ the red blood cells and/or the mononuclear cells of the host and, after an incubation period of 1-3 weeks, cause signs of disease.
Ticks should therefore be removed as soon as possible in order to limit the transmission time of disease-causing agents, as there is no way to determine whether or not they are carriers of these infectious agents.
It is also fundamental in attention that one or two ticks carrying these infectious forms are enough for the dog to contract one of these diseases. Thus, the vigilance should be constant and any sign of apathy, temperature, lack of appetite and pale mucous membranes (gums or conjunctiva) in dogs that usually have ticks, is a reason for a visit to the veterinarian who, through blood analysis, may detect babesiosis or erlichiose. These diseases are treatable but only if they are detected in time.
The life cycle of the tick is divided into 4 developmental stages: the egg, the larva, the nymph and the adult.
A single host can be parasitised by all these tick life cycles.
An adult tick can raise thousands of eggs, which will be released from the host, falling on the ground and developing there, if they find proper conditions, which are preferably areas of low or medium height vegetation and with some degree of humidity.
How do you “catch” ticks?
Ticks reach the dog’s body through direct contact. As they do not fly or jump, they normally settle in weeds and bushes and wait for their future host to pass and gnaw on that vegetation, having for this purpose a special sensitivity that allows them to detect the approach and crossing of the victim.
How to avoid infestation?
Unfortunately, there is no preventive treatment scheme. If the dog attends areas infested by ticks, it will certainly be liable to catch them. Areas with undergrowth and bushes are the most risky. However, they can be found on pavements, in the gaps in walls and, therefore, during a simple walk to a square or a public garden, the dog can get infested. And the same can happen in our private yards or gardens if the disinfestation has not been done in an integrated way.
How to fight against ticks?
As with fleas, the tick must not only be fought on the animal’s body, but also in the environment. In all its life stages (from larva to adult), the tick is very resistant. The invisible stages of its life cycle, the eggs and larvae, will remain in the environment and survive there for many months if no appropriate measures are taken.
But to eliminate it from the dog is relatively easy, either by picking it up with tweezers* or through specific parasiticides. When tweezers are used to remove the tick, one must be aware of the need to use alcohol or ether beforehand to “put the parasite to sleep”. It uses claws to fix itself on the dog’s skin and these liquids, besides disinfecting the bite, help its removal. Otherwise, by force, the parasite is removed but the claws remain in the skin and may cause infection later on.
In regard to public spaces, any single measures are inefficient. The most reasonable solution to prevent the dog getting ticks is to avoid taking it to infested places. However, if this is not possible, a full body inspection should be carried out on the dog’s return home. In many cases, ticks walk on the ground and stick to the legs, so you should not stop watching these areas, including between the toes.
In our domestic environment, whether inside the house or in the garden, all the places should be disinfected with appropriate insecticides, but always taking special care that these products do not intoxicate the animal. To ensure the criteria of safety and effectiveness, it is crucial to hire a company specialised in pest control.
There are several products on the market to fight ticks on pets, such as liquids, sprays and collars. Never dismiss the advice of your vet, however, because it is he who will be able to recommend not only the most adequate product, but also the most effective method to fight the parasite, as well as the advised periodicity of treatment. Some parasiticides fight both fleas and ticks and, basically, are the most recommended so as not to expose the animal to the toxicity of these products, which is always harmful. You should also be aware that these products are designed not to cause serious damage to the animal, but when in excess, they can put in danger the animal’s health. Do not forget that many of the toxic substances that compose the parasiticides are accumulative, that is, the organism does not get rid of them completely, worsening the dose of toxic absorbed by the organism with successive uses.