Do you think that only dogs who spend time in the woods get ticks? Or that ticks get on your dog by falling from trees? Do you believe ticks aren’t a problem for your cat because she removes them when she grooms? Check out these and other common myths about ticks and pets that veterinarians commonly hear. The facts may surprise you!
Myth #1: Only dogs and cats that spend time in the woods get ticks.
Fact: Ticks tend to live where the animals they feed on (hosts) live, regardless of urban, suburban or rural locale. Ticks may be found in any areas of tall grass, shrubbery, brush and other plant material, particularly along animal trails or footpaths. Ticks typically don’t fall from trees, although they can climb. In fact, adult black-legged ticks have been found up to 3 feet off of the ground waiting for a host.
Adult ticks crawl up grass blades, tall weeds or bushes, where they wait for an animal or person to walk by (a process called questing). When you or your dog brushes against them or the plants on which they’re resting, they climb aboard, find a suitable spot on the skin to attach, and feed for several hours or even several days. Once feeding is complete, ticks drop off of their host and into the environment.
Immature ticks tend to be found in leaf litter or in the layers of decomposing leaves under trees and may crawl onto a host when the debris is disturbed.
Myth #2: Cold winter weather kills ticks.
Fact: Ticks don’t die just because it’s winter, not even in the Northern states. Some ticks become dormant, others hide in the leaf litter of wooded and brushy areas, some move indoors, and still others spend the winter on animals. Snow cover actually insulates dormant ticks from cold temperatures, just as it does grass and other plants.
Adult black-legged ticks (deer ticks), the species that transmits Lyme disease, begin feeding around the time of the first frost. Adults that don’t find hosts as winter closes in will take cover under leaf litter or other plant material. During midwinter thaws, when temperatures reach higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, black-legged ticks can become active and have been found on plants above snow-covered ground searching for hosts.
Myth #3: Cats don’t have tick problems because they remove ticks when they groom.
Fact: Cats can and do pick up ticks, especially outdoor cats that roam through grassy areas and rest under shrubs. And as rough as a cat’s tongue can be, it may not remove all ticks during grooming. Many ticks produce a sticky, glue-like substance that helps them stay attached to your pet. A tick also could attach in an area where your cat cannot reach to groom, like her face or ears.
Even if your cat managed to remove a feeding tick during grooming, she still could become infected with a tick-transmitted disease such as cytauxzoonosis (pronounced sight-oh-zo-un-osis), which can result in serious illness or even death.
Myth #4: Ticks transmit disease as soon as they bite a pet.
Fact: Ticks can carry and transmit several different types of disease-causing organisms (pathogens), including bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxins. The good news is that not all ticks are infected and most tick bites don’t result in disease.
The feeding time necessary for disease-causing organisms to be passed to a host varies between ticks and pathogens. Some bacteria may be transmitted within three to six hours of tick attachment, while others require more than 24 hours before transmission occurs.
Since it’s impossible to know if a tick is infected, prompt removal is key to preventing pathogen transfer to you and your pet. You’ll also want to discuss with your veterinarian which tick control product is appropriate for your pet.
Myth #5: If a dog is vaccinated against Lyme disease, he doesn’t need a tick control product.
Fact: Lyme disease is the most widely known and common tick-transmitted disease in the United States. But ticks may carry and transmit several other disease-causing organisms to dogs, cats and people. So while we’re fortunate to have a vaccine to help protect dogs against Lyme disease, there are no effective vaccines to protect pets from these other organisms and the diseases they cause. And there’s no Lyme vaccine approved for use in cats. That’s why it’s still important to use a tick control product and regularly check your pet for ticks after spending time outside. Be sure to ask your veterinarian which tick control product is best suited for your dog or cat.
Myth #6: The best way to remove an attached tick is with a hot match, fingernail polish or petroleum jelly.
Fact: While these “home remedies” for removing attached ticks may or may not work, they’re actually dangerous to your pet. Using a lit or hot match to detach a tick is not only ineffective, it can easily burn your pet — and remember, hair is highly flammable! Fingernail polish and petroleum jelly may eventually suffocate feeding ticks, but by the time ticks die, they may have passed disease-causing organisms to your pet.
The best way to remove an attached tick is to grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible while avoiding the tick’s abdomen. Gently, firmly and steadily pull on the tick until it comes out. Jerking or twisting the tick may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. Once the tick is removed, clean the wound with soap and water, and clean your tweezers with rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. You also may want to preserve the tick in a small container of rubbing alcohol for identification. Be sure to label the container with information about the time and place where the tick bite most likely occurred.
Of course, if you’re not sure how to properly remove a tick, ask your veterinarian to show you.
Now that we’ve busted these common myths, what should you do? Talk with your veterinarian about which tick control product is right for your pet. And consistently check your cat or dog for ticks.
To learn more about ticks and other parasites that can affect your pet, check out the Companion Animal Parasite Council’s website.
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