What Are Ticks? Blood-Sucking Parasites That Nobody Likes

Just the word tick sounds annoying. Many pet parents are uneducated on what ticks are. Come read about the many different kinds of ticks and how to keep your pet safe from them.

Like fleas, ticks are small wingless parasites that feed on the blood of warm-blooded hosts. Ticks are classified as arachnids. Both fleas and ticks can torment your pet. Worldwide, there are about 850 species of ticks, but the main ticks that you and your pet may encounter in North America are:

Tick bites aren't merely uncomfortable, but because ticks move from host-to-host, and are frequently brought into the house from the wild, ticks spread diseases easily. Most notably, ticks are the main carrier of Lyme’s disease.

Tick Varieties

There are three families of ticks: hard, soft, and Nuttalliellidae. The two varieties that appear in the United States are hard and soft ticks; both of these types potentially carry diseases to humans and animals; Nuttalliellidae are quite rare and only known to appear in Africa. Both hard and soft ticks have similar life cycles and habits, and spread diseases easily to hosts.

A Tick's Life Cycle & Biology

Ticks progress through four stages of life: Adult ticks give birth to eggs, which hatch as larval ticks. After feeding, larval ticks hatch into nymphs, which become adults after feeding upon a host. In the three main life stages—larva, nymph, and adult—the tick must feed upon a host to progress to the next life stage. Female ticks frequently lay eggs immediately after eating. It takes from a few months to a year for a tick to progress through the life stages; adult female ticks can lay up to 3,000 eggs. After laying eggs, female ticks die.

Ticks can only consume blood—which they ingest by biting hosts—but are capable of living for several months without eating. A tick's ideal environment is warm and humid—when it's too cool, tick's eggs can't develop into larva. Ticks require a number of hosts to be around their area in order to reproduce.

Finding Ticks on Your Pet

Ticks are quite small, making them difficult to spot on your pet’s skin. Comb through your dog or cat’s fur looking for small scabs or engorged ticks feeding upon your pet. Pay close attention to hairless areas of your pet’s body—behind the ears, by the head, on paws, or around the neck. Tick bites are itchy and irritating for pets, although far less so than mosquito or flea bites.

Prevention Tips

After going outside, especially when it's warm, check your pet carefully for ticks. Remove any ticks that you find. To prevent ticks from finding your dog an attractive host, use topical spot-on solutions (like Frontline Plus or K9 Advantix) or use a tick collar. Most products can be procured over the counter, but others will require a visit to the veterinarian.

If you have a yard, you can also make that environment unattractive to ticks by keeping the grass trimmed quite short. You can also potentially spray the lawn with pesticides—just make sure sprays are pet-friendly.

Removing & Treating Ticks

If you spot a tick on your pet—or yourself—carefully and calmly remove it. As with many parasites, where there is one tick, the possibility exists for several, since birth rates are rapid and abundant. Check your pet and their surroundings—particularly any bedding—for ticks. If ticks have infiltrated your house, apply a pesticide to the house and double-check that your pet is tick-free.

The easiest way to prevent your pet from tick bites, and avoid a tick infestation in your home, is to use tick-prevention treatments and check your pet carefully for ticks after being outdoors in warm weather months.

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