Compared to snakes and scorpions, ticks look like a small threat. To your pets, though, they can pose a serious risk. Ticks are one of the most common parasites found on domestic pets and can lead to a host of problems for you and your furry family members.
There are hundreds of tick species throughout the world, but only a few dozen live in Arizona. Of those commonly found in the state, four pose the largest concern for pet owners:
Brown Dog Tick: The brown dog tick is approximately ⅛” and reddish-brown when unfed and turns grayish-blue and can grow to ½” after feeding. Unlike most ticks, brown dog ticks can complete their entire life cycle indoors and cause large home infestations.
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick: The rocky mountain wood tick is brown and approximately ⅛” when unfed, growing to ⅝” and turning grayish after feeding. They are generally found in wooded areas as well as meadows and lawns.
Western Blacklegged Tick: Though not as common in Arizona as others on this list, the western black-legged tick is found in Hualapai Mountain Park and may spread to other regions as its host population increases. They have tiny red bodies that are difficult to spot.
Soft Ticks: Unlike the other ticks on this list, soft ticks do not have a hard outer shell. Soft ticks are more fleshy in appearance and generally attach themselves to birds and rodents, Pets and humans can encounter them in secluded cabins or rural homes experiencing rodent infestations.
Ticks on Dogs
Ticks cannot fly or jump. Instead, they engage in “questing,” which means they crawl up into low shrubs and grass to wait for a potential host to brush up against them. Since dogs frequently enter these environments, they become hosts to questing ticks. Tick-borne diseases, including Lyme Disease, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis, present an ongoing threat to dog health. While most tick-borne diseases are transmitted through tick bites, one (Hepatozoonosis) results when a dog eats an infected tick. In Arizona, dogs who ingest an infected brown dog tick may contract Old World Hepatozoonosis.
Since vaccines are not available for most tick-borne diseases, a preventative tick treatment for dogs is the most appropriate way to guard against infection. Continue to inspect your dog for signs of ticks or tick bites even when your dog is on a veterinarian-approved tick regimen to avoid him bringing hitchhiking ticks into your home.
Ticks on Cats
Cats are susceptible to various tick-borne diseases, including anaplasmosis, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. They can also contract Bobcat Fever (cytauxzoonosis), a potentially fatal illness transmitted by the Lone Star tick that, thankfully, is not currently common in Arizona.
Even indoor cats can become hosts for ticks and should be checked daily. While you should always examine your cat’s entire body, ticks are most likely to be found on cats in the areas they cannot reach to groom, such as under the collar, in the ears, and on top of the head.
Before applying any product for preventing ticks to your cat, consult with your veterinarian. Cats are sensitive to many chemicals, including those found in some tick prevention products for dogs. Your vet can help you select a flea and tick prevention regimen to include as part of an overall feline health and wellness plan.
How are Ticks Dangerous to Your Pet?
Tick bites can lead to several health concerns for your pet, including itching, hair loss, allergic reactions, and infections. Ticks can also transmit several diseases to pets and people.
Like mosquitoes, ticks feed on blood and can transfer pathogens between hosts. Ticks in pets often go unnoticed due to their small size and that they feed in difficult to see places, including within ears and between toes. Once a tick has attached to a host, they may secrete saliva with numbing properties so the host cannot feel them. As a result, ticks can spend several days feeding on a pet without detection. During this time, they can transmit pathogens they encountered in a previous host to its new host through small amounts of saliva. Pets in Arizona are susceptible to several tick-borne diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, Tick-borne Relapsing Fever, and others.
Where to Look for Ticks on Your Pet
While it is common to find ticks on dog paws and ears, ticks can be found anywhere on your pet’s body. Tick nymphs and larvae are frequently found on an animal’s back, while adult ticks tend to seek out warm or sheltered areas of your pet’s body. To complete a thorough inspection, make sure to pay close attention to the following areas:
- In and around your pet’s ears
- Around your pet’s eyelids
- Around your pet’s tail
- Under the collar
- Between the back legs
- Under the front legs
- Between the toes
How to Remove a Tick From Your Pet
If you find one or more ticks on your dog or cat, you will need to take care in removing them. Though you may have heard of folk remedies for removing ticks involving matches, petroleum jelly, and other household items, these methods are ineffective at best and can be damaging at worst.
The best way to get a tick off a dog or cat is with sterilized tweezers or a specialty (non-twisting) tick removal tool.
- Take hold of the tick with your tweezers, getting as close to your pet’s skin as possible.
- Pull straight up on the tick. Take care not to twist it or squeeze its body, which could cause fluids or parts of the tick to break off and remain in your pet’s skin.
- Clean the bite area with soap and water (with the exception of within the ears or eyelids), then wash your hands thoroughly. Do not allow the tick to come into direct contact with your skin, and be sure to clean and disinfect any surfaces it may have touched.
- Monitor the site of the bite for any signs of rash or infection and schedule an appointment with your vet for an examination.
How to Prevent Ticks on Your Pet
There are a number of products, including dips, collars, and topical applications, that provide parasitic prevention for pets. Your vet can help you determine your pet’s risk and choose the best preventative approach based on their knowledge, your pet’s lifestyle, and other factors. Daily tick inspections can also help you find and remove any ticks your pet might encounter inside and outside your home.
Brown dog ticks present a unique challenge because they can complete their entire life cycle indoors. Of the two years they live, only 2-3 weeks are spent feeding, and they can be hiding high on walls or in cracks the rest of the time. Frequent cleaning of walls, pet bedding, and soft surfaces, such as carpets, curtains, and blankets, can help eliminate them. If infestations grow unchecked, a professional pest control service may be needed.
Get More Information on Removing Ticks
At Continental Animal Wellness Center, we’re committed to providing compassionate, comprehensive care to all of our patients. Our practice incorporates both behavioral health and traditional medicine, and a focus on the health and well-being of the pets we treat informs everything we do.
We understand your pets are a part of your family, and any visit to the veterinary clinic can be scary for both of you. Our experienced staff shares a commitment to ensuring excellent care and service that promotes your pet’s health and comfort and keeps you informed and engaged in all options and decisions. Our state-of-the-art facility is designed to provide complete head-to-tail care for large and small animals, including routine exams for healthy pets, sick visits, diagnostics, and surgery.
Do you need to find the right tick prevention protocol for your cat or dog? Contact us today to schedule a visit with one of our veterinarians.