What are Ticks?
Ticks are external parasites that affect almost every species of warm-blooded animals (mammals and birds) as well as some snakes and other reptiles. Ticks tend to be found in areas that are wooded or have tall grasses/scrubs present. The ticks will climb to the tips of the branches and leaves and wait for an animal to walk by. Once the tick senses the nearby movement, it will grab onto its host and quickly burrow down to the skin where it will bite to feed (as shown in the photo on the right). Ticks pose a problem to humans and our pets due to the potential of transmittable diseases.
Common Ticks of North America
There are a few types of ticks commonly found in North America and each one looks slightly different. Ticks are generally quite small prior to feeding but will grow substantially once they have had a blood meal. Some of the most common ticks of North America are as follows:
Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)
- Adults are active from April to August
- Females are recognized by a single white dot on a brown body, while males have white spots/streaks around the edges of their body
- Nymphs are active from May to August and can attach to their host within 10 minutes.
- Larvae are active from July to September and feed for approximately 4 days before dropping into the environment to moult into nymphs.
- Diseases: Adults can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis) – also known as the wood tick
- Commonly found in areas with little trees such as fields or along trails and walkways
- Adults are active from April to August
- Nymphs are active from May to July
- Larvae are active from April to September, most abundantly in spring and early summer. Larvae will feed for 3-4 days on the host before detaching
- Diseases: The nymphs and adults can transmit Rocky Moutain Spotted Fever and Tularemia.
Deer tick/Blacklegged Tick (Ixodes scapularis)
- Predominantly found in deciduous forests
- Adults are active from October – May as long as temperatures remain above freezing. Adult females are identified by their orange-red bodies with black scutum.
- Adult males do not feed
- Nymphs are active from May to August and will feed for 3-4 days before detaching.
- Larvae are active from July to September and require 3 days to feed prior to detaching
- Diseases: Nymph and adult stages transmit Lyme disease, Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis
Brown Dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
- Commonly are found in and around human settlements, infesting homes, backyards and dog kennels.
- In ideal conditions, these ticks will complete their entire life cycle within 3 months
- Adult males feed for short periods of time, while females feed for about a week
- Nymphs feed for 5-10 days prior to detaching and take 2 weeks to develop into adults
- Larvae feed for 3-7 days before detaching from the host and take 2 weeks to develop into nymphs
- Diseases: All life stages can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever rickettsia. Nymph and adult stages can transmit the agents of canine ehrlichiosis and canine babesiosis
How to Protect You and Your Pet
Be mindful of the areas you are visiting and exploring. Ticks LOVE tall grasses and woodsy areas. After visiting these areas always do a thorough check of your pet and yourself to ensure no ticks have come home with you! Keeping your pets on a leash and wearing long pants/long sleeves can also help reduce the risk. It may be advisable for your pet to be on a tick preventative medication. Come visit one of our technicians or doctors to see which prevention would be best for your pet and your lifestyle. Careful selection and proper dosing can greatly reduce your risk of attracting these hitchhikers!
What Should You Do if You Find a Tick?
Let us know and don’t panic! By giving us a quick call we can schedule you in for a quick appointment with one of our doctors or technicians to have that unwanted friend removed! When removing ticks it is very important to ensure their entire head and mouthparts are fully removed from where they are embedded. If any of these pieces are left behind, it can lead to a secondary infection. (As shown, a tick’s head and mouthpieces are embedded into the host completely, making removal a tricky task)
Written by Claire Pethick, RVT