Ticks are in the phylum of animals called Arthropoda (jointed appendage). This phylum of animals is the largest in the animal kingdom. There are over 850 different species of ticks, and they parasitise every class of terrestrial vertebrate animal, including amphibians. Ticks are small rounded arachnids that cling to one spot and do not move. They have inserted their head under the skin and are engorging themselves on the blood. Diseases carried by ticks means that you should have yourself or your pets checked after you find ticks. On the one hand, ticks are a little easier to deal with since they remain outdoors, and do not infest houses the way fleas do; on the other hand, they carry more dangerous diseases and are harder to find.

Role in Diseases:

Ticks are the most important arthropod in transmitting diseases to domestic animals and run a close second to mosquitoes in arthropod borne human diseases. They transmit a greater variety of infectious agents than any other type of arthropod. Ticks can cause disease and illness directly. They are responsible for anemia due to blood loss, Dermatosis due to salivary secretions, and ascending tick paralysis due to neurotoxins in the salivary secretions. They also can be the vector of other diseases. Some of the more noted tick borne diseases are Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichia, East Coast fever, Relapsing Fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease.

Kinds of Ticks:

Soft ticks, the argasids, are distinguished by their soft, leathery cuticle and lack of scutum. They can be recognized easily by their subterminal mouthparts that are on the underside of the tick. Soft ticks when engorged with blood blow up like a balloon. Soft ticks are fast feeders, being able to tank up in a matter of hours.
Hard ticks, the Ixodids, have a hard plate on the dorsal surface and have terminal mouthparts. When attaching, a tick will slice open the skin with the mouthparts and then attach itself. They also secrete a cement that hardens and holds the tick onto the host. Hard ticks are slow feeders, taking several days to finish their blood meal. During feeding a tick may extract up to 8 ml of blood, they can take 100X their body weight in blood. Interestingly, they concentrate the blood during feeding and will return much of the water to the host while losing some by transpiration through the cuticle.


All ticks have four life cycle stages. Adult ticks, produce eggs. A female tick can produce up to 20,000 eggs. Mating usually occurs on a host, after which the female must have a blood meal in order for the eggs to develop. Ixodid ticks are unusual in that mating does not occur on the host. The eggs are laid in the soil or leaf litter after the female drops off the host. These eggs hatch into a stage known as the larva. The larva is the smallest stage and can be recognized by having only 3 pairs of legs. These "seed ticks" are produced in great numbers. They must find a host and take a blood meal in order to molt to the next stage called the nymph. If the nymph can feed on a host, it will develop into the adult tick.
Ticks vary greatly in how long this cycle takes and the number of hosts involved. Some ticks are one host ticks; the entire cycle occurs on that one host. Others use two hosts, some three and some of the soft ticks are multi-host ticks. Ticks require high humidity and moderate temperature. Juvenile ticks usually live in the soil or at ground level. They will then climb up onto a blade of grass or the leaf of a plant to await a potential host. They will sense the presence of a host and begin the questing behavior, standing up and waving their front legs. They are able to sense a vibration, a shadow, a change in CO2 level, or temperature change. When unsuccessful in their "quest" they become dehydrated and will climb back down the plant to the ground to become rehydrated. Then back up the plant, etc., until they are successful or they die. Some ticks have been known to live for over 20 years and they can live for a very long time without food. Their favored habitat is old field-forest ecozone. One way to cut down the number of ticks is to keep the area mowed.


Removing a Tick

When you find a tick, use tweezers to pick up the body and pull s-l-o-w-l-y and gently, and the mouthparts will release. You should see a small crater in your dog's skin, if you see what looks like black lines, you've left the head of the tick in. At this point, if your dog is mellow enough, you should try and pick it out. Otherwise, you may need to take your pet into the vet, as the head parts will lead to an infection. Ticks carry a lot of rickett type diseases, including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, so you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap after handling a tick. Some vets will put on gloves, smear one finger with a bit of mineral oil and massage the protruding part of the tick for a minute or so. The tick will back out.


1) Don't use any of the folklore remedies (matches, cigarettes, pins, gasoline) that will irritate the tick. They increase the likelihood that the tick will "spit up" in you, which increases the risk of disease.
2) Oil is not effective because the breathing requirements of the tick are so small it could last hours covered with oil.
3) The mouthpiece is barbed rather than spiraled, so trying to rotate the tick out doesn't provide any advantage.
4) The preferred method is to use special tweezers designed for that purpose, and pull straight out.
Lyme Disease is usually carried by tiny deer ticks (two other kinds of ticks have also been identified as carriers) , which are the size of the head of a pin. You must look yourself or your pet over very carefully to find these kind of ticks. Other ticks can be as large as peppercorns. This can vary depending on whether or not the tick has yet engorged itself -- the deer tick can be as large as the more familiar Dog Tick if it has had time to feed. So if you are in doubt, preserve the tick in rubbing alcohol and have your vet take a look at it. Infections or Abscesses

If you have left the head of the tick in your pet's skin, chances are there will be an infection or an abscess in a week or so. Try disinfecting the area thoroughly with 70% alcohol (it takes about 5 minutes for alcohol to sterilize an area). Ethyl alcohol is less toxic than rubbing alcohol; vodka or any high-proof liquor will work, but good commercial antiseptic cleansers are recommended. Then apply a combination antibiotic ointment. If an infection occurs anyway, take your pet in to the vet to have it drained.

Disposing of Ticks

To dispose of the tick, drop it into alcohol to kill it, then dispose of it. Flushing them down the toilet WILL NOT KILL THEM. Squishing them with a thumbnail is not recommended and is not easy anyway. You might save the tick in a jar of alcohol for identification, to help decide whether possible infection has occurred.

Where you pick up ticks

Adult ticks can remain on deer and other mammals through the fall and winter. If you spend a lot of time outdoors during this period, be sure to check yourself, your family and your pets daily for ticks. If you hunt or trap, check areas where you cache your game for ticks that may have fallen off during handling. A helpful practice is to wear long pants tucked into white socks; this way they crawl up the 'outside' of your pants and you can spot them in the field. Also wear a hat: they can drop from trees onto your head.

Ticks like long grass on the edges of woods (especially deer ticks) They crawl up onto the grass blades and cling to you as you walk past. If you comb your pet with a wide tooth flea comb right after a walk, chances are you will find unattached ticks crawling around. Ticks don't attach themselves right away, they look around for good real estate. It's easier to remove ticks before they attach and easier to remove newly attached ticks than ones that have been feeding for a while.


 Combating ticks

If you have heavy infestations of ticks in your area, spraying your backyard against ticks may be a good idea, especially if your pet is indoor/outdoors. If you have a dog, a new product called PREVENTIC appears to be highly effective. It is a tick collar that kills ticks shortly after they attach to your dog. The active agent is AMITRAZ, which prevents attachment and kills but does not affect fleas. Amitraz is not an insecticide (flea killer) but an "arachnicide" (8-legged bug killer - ticks and spiders are in the same class.) The collar works best if it is kept dry. Rain is OK, but swimming is out, as exposure to water reduces its effectiveness. Removing the collar is apparently non-trivial. You don't need a prescription, although the only place you might find it is at the vet's or in a mail-order catalog. Twenty-four hours after putting it on, your dog is protected from ticks.

Many people have written about how effective it was for their dog. It is NOT recommended for cats and some dogs appear to have individual sensitivity to it. If your dog becomes lethargic or irritable, remove the collar. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE COLLAR IS TOXIC! -- If your pet eats any part of the Preventic collar, take him in to the vet immediately. Symptoms include vomiting, white gums and unsteadiness. There is an antidote for it, called Yobine. There is a product, called Tiguvon (chemical composition) that is a systemic, administered monthly. Its drawbacks seem to be that it is expensive and that the tick needs to fully engorge itself to be poisoned by the systemic.

Ticks don't typically infest houses, unless you have a pet that had an overlooked tick that dropped off and hatched its eggs. In the Northeast US and other temperate climates the tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus is almost exclusively limited to domestic habitats, particularly kennels. Because the entire life cycle occurs inside, control strategies become similar to that of controlling fleas. You will have to spray your house in this case as ticks hatch an unbelievable number of eggs. Your local hardware store can give you tips on what is best to spray with. You are not too likely to find "natural" or low-toxic sprays for ticks. On the other hand, one spraying is likely all you need to clear them out of your house. They are not tenacious the way fleas are.

Common recommendations for reducing ticks in your backyard are to keep the weeds or grass well-mowed. There are commercial sprays effective against ticks. If you live in tick-infested areas, always examine your dog (and yourself!) after being outside. Control vermin around your house and discourage deer and other wild animals from your property, as they are often vectors for ticks as well as other things.


Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a complex illness that affects wild and domestic animals, including dogs, as well as humans. It is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called borrelia burgdoferi. First noted in 1977, the disease has rapidly spread throughout the contintental US and Canada. Studies have shown that migrating birds have helped disperse infected ticks to new areas. Hunting dogs, or any dog that runs in tick-infested fields, can bring the problem home with them. And so do people who move from place to place with infected pets. It is expected that Lyme disease will soon be a problem in all 48 contiguous US states. You should note that Lyme Disease is fairly easy to treat with antibiotics. Problems occur when it is left untreated. Lyme Disease appears to affect humans a bit differently and is more complex to treat. Sources for additional information on Lyme Disease: " State and local health departments and Your veterinarian or family physician".


When a tick bites, the bacterium is transferred into the blood of the host. The deer tick (Ixodes dammini) is found in the Northeast and upper Midwest; the black-legged tick (I. scapularis) is found in the Midwest and Southeast; and the Western black-legged tick (I. pacificus) is found mainly in the coastal areas of California, Oregon, and Washington. Hosts include deer, migratory birds, rabbits, mice, raccoons and skunks ... plus dogs, cats, cattle, horses and humans. Besides tick bites, Lyme disease may be spread by contact with infected body fluids. Studies indicate that transmission may occur in this manner from dog to dog, and possibly from cow to cow and horse to horse. Transmission from animal to human "may" be possible. In utero transmission has been observed. Animals may be reinfected with Lyme disease. The major vector for the deer tick is the mouse; deer have relatively little to do with it. Deer simply act as a home for the over wintering adults. Removing deer from an area has little long term effect on the tick population since the adults simply find another animal to act as a winter host.


The symptoms of this illness have now been separated into three stages. If caught before the end of the first stage, the illness is usually easily treated by antibiotics. In general, a high fever combined with stiffness or arthritic symptoms (in both people and animals) can indicate Lyme disease. The next two stages represent greater systematic involvement and include the nervous system and the heart. If still untreated, the third stage involves the musculoskeletal system. The erythema migrans (small round rash at the site of the bite) is the best early sign of a problem. Unfortunately, the tick that bites is usually a larva or nymph and so is seldom seen. The resulting rash is seen in approximately 80% of adults but only about 50% of children. It is imperative that it be diagnosed early since the more severe symptoms can begin quickly. Treatment consists of several broad spectrum antibiotics -- including tetracycline, penicillin, and erythromycin. This is effective, especially in the early stages. Consult with your veterinarian or doctor.


There is a vaccination against Lyme disease for dogs that is now available. It is Borrelia Burgdoferi Bacterin. It is supposed to have a duration of immunity that lasts through the tick season. One for people is coming out now as well.

R. Sanguineus

They can carry various diseases including the protozoa Babesia canis and the rickettsia Ehrlichia canis, both of which can cause serious illness in dogs if untreated. Also unlike most other ticks R. sanguineus can cause "in house" infestations - that is, like fleas you can have full life cycles occurring in the privacy of your very own home. In house infestations of R. sanguineus in the northeast is apparently not that uncommon in some kennels.

Ticks !

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